Character Change: In our own work

So, we’re looking at the inner journey this week.  Let’s see what kind of an inner journey we can create for the one-liners we’re working on.  Here we go…

1. Our human-rights-attorney story:

Set in the mid 1950’s, against the backdrop of the first US Supreme Court case to affirm gay rights, a human rights lawyer joins a wealthy Los Angeles law firm in order to fund his transgender partner’s wrongful termination suit against the federal government, not knowing that the firm’s managing partner is a devil intent on sabotaging the lawsuit.

Our Thematic Premise:

Courage leads to self empowerment;
cowardice leads to disempowerment.

Want, Need, Flaw, Symptoms:

  • Character: A human rights lawyer who joins a wealthy firm in order to fund the continuation of his transgender partner’s case.
  • General Emotional Want:  to protect his partner
  • Specific External Goal:  to win his case
  • Active Flaw:  Cowardice

The Inner Journey:


1. Hero doesn’t fully understand the Conflict.  Hero’s conflict is with the managing partner.  We covered a lot of ways to show that he doesn’t understand the conflict in last week’s post, where we set-up the managing partner’s reversal.

2. Hero doesn’t fully understand his Flaw.  Hero’s a coward, especially in the legal arena.  His losses are generally due to his failure to pursue tough cases with diligence, but he blames everyone else: his client, the evidence, the way-too-good opposing counsel, the judge, the law. He points the blame everywhere but at his cowardly self.

3. Show Hero acting out his Flaw:  In an early scene, we could have Hero working on a second case, maybe in court, and maybe the opposing counsel brings up some new evidence and our hero goes blank, looks to his client for help, who’s looking to Hero for expertise and professionalism, and Hero comes up short.  Maybe opposing counsel then moves to dismiss the case and Hero does nothing to counter.

4. Hero is capable of change.  Maybe Hero has succeeded despite pushback before.  Maybe in law school, where the stakes are fairly low, no one’s life or life-savings are at risk (just his grade), Hero had to do a mock trial against a cheater.  And maybe he managed to prove his case and prove that the opponent was a cheater.  Maybe hero’s partner reminds him of this. “See, you can stand up and hold your own.”  Or maybe there’s an instance in the front story where Hero, I don’t know, chases after his partner’s stolen purse.  He has instinctive courage, so maybe he’s got the potential for considered courage.

5. Hero is hopeful of success.  Maybe Hero believes they have a good case, he knows they have a chance.  And maybe he spends his free time watching old legal movies, where the hero lawyers win against all odds, trying to psyche himself up.

6. Hero is resistant to change.  And maybe Hero’s Flaw is getting worse.  Maybe these days, if something Hero wants takes even a little effort, he gives up. You can see it at the supermarket.  What he wants is available, but it’s out of reach, on a stocking shelf maybe, and he could ask for help, but he doesn’t.  This isn’t quite cowardice, but maybe it’s a trickling-out effect: he’s so beaten down in the legal world that he avoids even the slightest possibility of being disempowered, in this case asking for help and risking disempowerment, say, in the form of a stock clerk’ attitude.


Hero gets a glimmer of his Flaw, and it’s something he doesn’t like.  Hero might get a glimmer of his flaw when he realizes the case needs more money.  He wants to throw in the towel, but maybe his partner/client calls him out on his flaw in a defining moment.  And/Or maybe Hero gets a glimmer of his flaw when he gets into the new firm and it’s very competitive.  Everyone is always competing, not just in the courtroom, but in the preparation room, in their off time, in their sleep, and Hero is expected to compete too, in order to receive resources. He’s in the big leagues now, and he’s terrified, but he needs the firm’s support.


1. Character is stubborn, refusing to change.  Maybe Hero tries to avoid all the competition, even going so far as to oversleep, call in sick, feign other plans.  He could also pass off some of the harder-seeming court appearances to other attorneys, first-years even.  He’d probably try to pass this off as empowered delegating, but he’s really just avoiding having to do it himself.  It’s easier to just put his head in the sand and hope it all goes away.  If he did this, he’d become a bit out-of-the-loop on the case, and when his client/partner asked for updates, he’d have to lie or change the subject to avoid revealing his cowardly choices.

2. Personal Hell.  Hero is a cowardly human rights lawyer who needs money to fund the continuation of his transgender partner’s case.  Maybe the only thing he likes about his work is that he gets to do it alone, the way he wants to.  What might the personal hell of such a character be?  How about a huge prestigious firm full of bigoted, competitive jackasses with lots of arbitrary rules that reach past the office and into his personal life and who make their support contingent on Hero doing things that seem to violate the human rights of others?

3. Exhaustion.  Maybe pawning off the tougher aspects of his case started out as his idea, but eventually he’s doing it because he has to make time for the firm’s requests.  This exhausts him physically because the firm runs him ragged, but it also exhausts him mentally, because he’s losing control of, and even awareness about, his case.


Hero sees how his flaw is impacting the achievement of his goal. By taking the coward’s route he has sabotaged his own case.  Now there’s no avoiding the conflict (i) with his client/partner, who’s devastated, (ii) with the case itself, because the supporting firm has been outed as the saboteur it really is, or (iii) with the opposing side, which he now knows is more formidable than ever because it also includes his firm, not just the government.  All Hero has now is himself and his angry partner.  If he doesn’t start standing up for himself and his partner, no one will.


1. Hero is committed.  To show this, maybe he mortgages his house to fund the now-iffy case.  This would take courage.

2. Period of grace.  Maybe, after the legal setback, the judge grants them a few weeks to prepare for trial.  Maybe during this time Hero holes up somewhere out of town, somewhere he’d much rather stay than ever go back to LA.  And maybe he’s got an old classmate or maybe a relative who offers to help him out.  They make some progress on the case, doing research, nothing too conflict-laden, and he and his partner/client build themselves back up again.

3. Hero is challenged again; fear that he can’t change and succeed is growing.  Maybe some of Hero’s Part 2 actions come back to haunt him.  Last week we said the managing partner put a bug in his office.  Maybe pieces of information about the case or about his client/partner’s situation, information he thought was kept close, is suddenly part of the case. And the other side is lying about where they got the information.  And Hero’s fearful, because not only does he have to stand up for his client and the case, but now he has to stand up for himself, for his own professional reputation, which, especially now that he’s gotten himself into such a financial pickle, he really values.


1. Hero suffers his most devastating setback.  Maybe the secret information lands the client/partner in jail.  Maybe Hero has never tried a criminal case.  He has no idea what to do, no money to hire someone who can help, and no one who might offer to help gratis.

2. All is lost.  Client/Partner was Hero’s one source of light in all of this.  Now Hero is COMPLETELY on his own.


1. Hero experiences descent; tries to reclaim his flaw, but fails.  Maybe hero tries to escape all this through one of the usual, unhelpful channels: drugs, alcohol, suicide attempt.  Take your pick, it’s a coward’s way out.  Whichever way he tries to go, he “wakes up” again, still in this predicament.  The only way out is to change.

2. Hero choose to change.  Maybe, in doing all of the firm’s required activities, client-related and otherwise, Hero became aware of some potentially illegal activity that’s going on.  He could expose the firm and the managing partner, but doing so would also expose his own participation.  But telling what he knows is the only way Hero can think of to help his partner/client. Choosing this action would take huge courage.

3. Hero makes a sacrifice.  Trying to make this deal with the district attorney will expose his professional misconduct, he’ll most likely be disbarred.  Also, if Hero doesn’t have enough information to make an arrest that’s big enough to trade for both Hero and his partner/client, Hero might face jail time, not to mention the wrath of the evil firm.

4. Hero is capable of resolving conflict.  Maybe by making this deal and working with the district attorney, Hero learns information that helps him win his client/partner’s case.

5. Life is looking up.  The Supreme Court ruling comes down and gives his case a needed boost; they win.  But after that, maybe Hero’s not an attorney anymore, having been disbarred, but that’s not so bad.  Maybe he’s just finished his last hour of community service, and now he and his partner are facing the unknown future together… with courage.

2. Our diamond bullets story:

When his brother’s Pacific Northwest gang develops a diamond bullet that can penetrate bulletproof vests, a scholarship student must decide whether to help his brother avenge the death of their gang-leader father or protect the father of his girlfriend, the Yakima, Washington Chief of Police.

Our thematic premise:

Acceptance leads to family;
Revenge leads to loss of family.

Want, Need, Flaw, Symptoms:

  • Character: a kid whose brother expects him to avenge the death of their gang-leader father by killing his, the kid’s, girlfriend’s dad.
  • General Emotional Want:  Peace
  • Specific External Goal:  To prevent the killing of his girlfriend’s dad without his brother knowing he interfered.
  • Internal Emotional Need:  To Belong (because he doesn’t really fit in with his gang family or with his private school and girlfriend)
  • Active Flaw:  Indecisiveness and Impulsiveness

The Inner Journey:


1. Hero doesn’t fully understand the Conflict.  Hero doesn’t know that it’s actually his brother who killed Dad or that his brother tried to leave the gang.

2. Hero doesn’t fully understand his Flaw.  Maybe Hero sees his indecisiveness as a positive: he’s just being careful, weighing his options, letting others decide, keeping the peace.

3. Hero acts out his Flaw.  Maybe to show his Flaw, we could put Hero in charge of his dad’s remains, but he can’t decide whether to please the gang members and cremate dad and add his ashes to some bullets, or please his dad’s extended family, who’s not part of the gang, and bury Dad in a religious service.  (Maybe Dad loved the gang life, got in on the ground floor and worked his way up to leader with no family connections; Dad was totally decisive and focused.)

Anyway, maybe since Hero can’t decide which side of Dad’s life to appease, he waits too long to do either, and his dad ends up unclaimed and donated as a cadaver (assuming that’s possible).  And for the service, maybe everyone has to squeeze into Hero’s tiny living space, because it’s the only available space left that’s not gang-related.

4. Hero is capable of Change.  Hero seemed destined for the gang life, but he took it upon himself to take the steps that got him into private school with a scholarship.  Maybe someone else got him started, so he didn’t decide the path for himself, but once on the path, he continued to walk it with deliberate focus.

5. Hero is hopeful of achieving his goal.  Maybe, now that Dad is gone, Hero is hopeful that there can be peace.  As he perceives it, the obstacle to peace is now dead.

6. Hero is resistant to change.  Maybe Hero’s brother is trying to corral the gang and create a new leadership, and he’d like to do this with Hero, but Hero doesn’t want to make any gang decisions, and he avoids his brother so he doesn’t have to.  Hero tells himself that things will work out on their own; he doesn’t need to get involved.


Hero gets a glimmer of his Flaw, and it’s something he doesn’t like.  Maybe, as a result of Hero’s avoidance of his brother, Brother makes himself gang leader and appoints as his second Hero’s LAST choice for second, someone scary and manipulative.  And when Hero complains, Brother points out Hero’s Flaw in a defining moment:  “I asked you; you should have helped me decide.”


1. Hero is stubborn, refusing to change.  Now that Brother and Scary No. 2 are in charge and clearly intent on getting revenge and wanting Hero’s input, Hero tries to avoid them entirely. But Hero also wants to keep the peace with his brother, so he feels the need to be available for him, and so Hero delays doing things that are good for him because he doesn’t want to decide and be stuck with the time commitment, such as deciding whether to join school teams or doing extra credit projects or committing to volunteer with the family friend who got him on the path to school.  Meanwhile, when his Brother does call on him, it’s for things Hero would rather not do, so he stalls, but when he can no longer take knowing that Brother will be angry if he doesn’t follow through, he suddenly springs into action in a recklessly impulsive way that leaves Hero less than successful.  When asked questions, Hero never gives a straight answer.  He avoids situations where he has to take sides or make decisions.

2. Personal Hell.  Hero is an indecisive, often impulsive, scholarship student who wants peace within his gang family.  What might the personal hell of such a character be?  How about having decisions made for him, and having to deal with the consequences of those made-for-him choices whether he follows through with what’s been decided for him or not.  Brother sets up Hero to be the hitman in their plot to avenge Dad, and whether Hero does the killing or not, the gang plans to make him take the fall for it.

3. Exhaustion.  All of his avoidance will only get him so far.  Eventually he’ll be backed into a corner with two equally undesirable options.  And he’ll have to start making some decisions.


Hero sees how his flaw is impacting the achievement of his goal.  Doing nothing and avoiding making decisions about his place in the gang and about his school involvement has completely undermined his goal of peace, because now his place in the gang has been decided for him, he’s to become the hitman/fall-guy, and this threatens his place at school.


1. Hero is committed to change.  Hero’s got to find a way to take back control of his own life.  Maybe this is where he starts talking to the gang’s diamond connection, the international apple salesman.  Maybe Hero decides that if he can get into international apple sales, he can stay away from his brother, the gang, and it won’t matter if he loses his scholarship.  He’ll have a job.  He can take care of himself and his girlfriend, too, once she graduates.

2. Period of grace.  Maybe for a while, things are going okay.  Brother and Scary No. 2 seem too busy with other things to bother Hero.  Maybe Hero begins to hope that they’ve gone another way with their revenge plan.  Maybe school is better too.

3.  But then Hero is challenged again, and fear that he can’t change and succeed is growing.  But then maybe Brother and Scary No. 2 plant a gun, maybe with diamond bullets, at hero’s school, and they threaten Hero that if he doesn’t kill the police chief, they’ll report the gun as his.  He feels that no matter what choice he now makes, it’s not really his choice.


1. Hero suffers his most devastating setback.  Hero is the scholarship-kid-son of a dead gang leader who just wants to live a peaceful existence with his family.  What’s the worst that could happen, internally?  How about finding out that his brother is the one who killed his dad?

2. All is lost.  Hero feels like he got himself into this mess because he was trying to keep the peace with his brother, to keep his family, his place of belonging, and yet this whole time it was his brother who created and perpetuated this mess.  Does Hero even have a family to keep the peace with anymore?


1. Hero experiences descent.  Brother knows Hero is on to him.  Hero’s girlfriend is ashamed of him for the gun incident.  His place at school is questionable.  And the gang still wants revenge against the police chief.  Hero has nowhere safe to hide.

2. Hero chooses to change.  Maybe Hero knows that Brother and Scary No. 2 intend to make a point with the assassination of the police chief–hence the diamond bullets.  So maybe hero demonstrates his change by destroying the diamonds and, with it, any point” his Brother wanted to make.  Wait–can you destroy diamonds?  Maybe he just turns the diamonds into the police anonymously.

3. Hero makes a sacrifice.  Lots of options available for sacrifice. Hero could lose his scholarship.  He could do jail time.  He could confront his Brother and take a bullet.  He could lose his girlfriend.

4. Hero is now capable of resolving conflict.  Hero’s conflict was that he wanted peace while his family wanted revenge.  But Hero is now capable of deciding that maybe he wants to forgive and forget his Brother, just as he asked his brother to forgive and forget the police chief for murdering Dad.

5. Hero’s life is looking up.  Maybe Hero loses his scholarship, but he’s already been accepted to college, so he gets his GED to fulfill the graduation requirement and starts working for the police chief.


Well, People, after sleeping on this, I think we might have a problem here.  Our theme is about acceptance leading to family; revenge leading to loss of family, but Hero’s change doesn’t capture this theme.  He seems to already know this to be true.

Brother seems to embody that revenge leads to loss of family.  And if Police Chief and Girlfriend accept Hero, despite his gang affiliation and flaw, then they embody the opposite, that acceptance leads to family.

But Hero seems to embody something like decisiveness leads to peace or harmony, to a life you’re content with; indecisiveness leads to disharmony, to a life of discontent, a life you don’t recognize as your own.

So… do we change our theme to match the flaw?  Or change the flaw to better fit the theme?  I don’t know.  But for now, since I don’t have a succinct phrasing for the new theme, but I do think that Hero’s indecisiveness could include should he or shouldn’t he engage in revenge to keep the peace with his brother, his family, I think I’ll resolve this problem like this: keep the flaw and the theme the same. At least for now.

But if we were to fully write out a draft based on what we’ve got so far, we’d want to make it very clear that Brother is on the revenge side of the fence, Girlfriend/Police Chief are on the Acceptance side of the fence, and that Flawed, Indecisive Hero is very much ON the fence, torn between revenge and acceptance.

I think that’s the only way his flaw of indecisiveness can work with our theme of revenge vs. acceptance.  In which case, Hero probably wouldn’t be doing all the avoiding of Brother I mentioned in Part 2, above.  He’d probably be trying to engage with Brother more–just as much as he engages with Girlfriend/School/Police Chief–because he’d be trying to figure out why Brother feels the way he does and whether he, Hero, should feel the same.  He’d be trying to figure out which side of the fence is better.

Anyway.  We’ll let that settle a bit and see what happens next week.  I think I feel better about it for now, but let’s face it, People, I pants these things.


Well, that’s it for me.  Finally.  This week’s 4-post word count came to almost 12,500 words.  If you’ve read this far, thank you–you are amazing!


The outer journey.  See you then.

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