When you write a story – whether it’s short fiction or a full-length novel, readers need to go through the ups and downs, experience the traumas, revel in the successes of your characters. They need to live vicariously.
The destination is never as important as the journey itself. To make your stories come alive, create characters on the verge of change, who will – in some way – be unrecognizable by the end of the story. Ripe characters.
Not all journeys are the same. There are the “surface” ones like losing a job, getting a promotion, moving to a new location, falling in love, getting married or having children. Beneath the surface, there are also inner journeys, more profound journeys.
Realization about others gives your story depth. The abused wife might get rid of her husband, but a year later fall back into the old relationship, or find another abusive one; a cult member might finally leave, but end up joining another one. To break the pattern, a character must embark on the profound journey of self-realization. Just as one realizes his group is a cult, he must realize that something inside led him there. The battered wife might realize that she has always been attracted to abusive relationships. The characters need to take responsibility for their lives and their relationships. This can be triggered from within, but often it is triggered by an outside source – a teacher, a friend, a rabbi or priest.
Taking action is a real journey. Surface journeys are easier and more comfortable, but they don’t leave the reader satisfied. Obstacles are one of the most helpful tools at your disposal – they help prolong the journey, cause conflict and aid in suspense. So give your characters a real problem to deal with and help them overcome the obstacles through understanding their own motivation – take them on a profound journey.