The Transformation of the Hero

One of the best books about writing I ever read was David Gerrold’s Worlds of Wonder. It’s a how-to for writing science fiction and fantasy, but it’s applicable to all writers since, in the end, we are all creating worlds of wonder.

The aspect of the book I would like to discuss is the transformation of the hero. In the beginning, the situation is introduced and the hero discovers she has a problem. She attempts action and, though she gives it all she has, she is beaten by the problem. She gains a deeper understanding of the problem, then tries again, exhausting all possibilities she knows. All that is left is what she doesn’t know. Finally, because some event occurs or some person says something that triggers the hero’s realization of what she has to do, the hero goes through a shift in being, a reinvention of herself, and confronts the problem directly.

This transformation of the character is the reason you’re telling the story. A story is an account of how a particular person who started out like that ended up like this.

Most problems are about not handling the problem. By choosing to make the situation the problem, the hero creates herself as the source of the problem. Until she recognizes her own authorship of the dilemma, she cannot create herself as the source of the resolution. She has to give up whatever investment she has in not solving the problem. The hero has to be awakened to the possibility that there is another way to think about this. Another way to be.

So transformation is not only the re-creation of the hero as the owner of the situation, it is self-empowerment as well.

In science fiction and fantasy, this transformation is not metaphysical but real. In the process of transformation, not only is the hero changed, but the world in which he exists is also transformed.

In all other fictions, this transformation is more internal, but still real.

I have been thinking about transformation lately as pertaining to my real life. In order to become one of those rare writers who can support herself with sales of her books, I need to transform myself into an “Author,” to recreate myself as if I were a character in one of my books. Don’t know how to do it, and the only reason I’m mentioning it is to show the validity of the hero’s transformation.

So, what problems confront your heroes? How do they attempt to solve them? How are they thwarted? And finally, how do they recreate themselves to solve the problems?

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A Writer’s Mythical Journey

The best books always have characters that go through a transformation during the course of the story, but most books today seem to have static characters. The authors tell us a lot about the characters and their myriad relationships but the characters do not really transform. Perhaps because the writer isn’t asking the right questions.

In Worlds of Wonder, David Gerrold wrote, “Ask your character these two questions: Who are you? Who do you want to be?

“Ask them of yourself as well.”

Perhaps the key to writing well is knowing who we are and what we want to be in relation to the book we are writing. Maybe the way to get inside it and to create a vivid and compelling world is to make the character’s transformation our own. And we do this by having a clear idea of what we want to say and choosing the right words to say it.

The realization that the words we write can change us as writers as well as affect our readers is making me rethink my own mythic journey as a writer. If words are so powerful that they can change readers and writers both, then they deserve my best. I don’t think I’ve achieved my best. At least, I hope I haven’t.

Writing is changing me in ways I could not even fathom several years ago, and I have a hunch I am at still at the beginning of my journey, so I have no idea how I will be transformed. I’m hoping I am a hero in my own journey, and that I will become a powerful writer. I now can see that writing will never get easier for me, because with each book I will pick something to challenge me, to help me get closer to that being that author I need to become. Published or unpublished.

It’s the journey that counts. The process of transformation.

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On Writing: Questions to Ponder

David Gerrold, a science fiction writer, is guest hosting my blog today. He doesn’t know that he is; I only know him through his book, Worlds of Wonder. Although it is a book on how to write science fiction and fantasy, it’s a good reference for all of us who want to take our writing to another level. He not only explains certain concepts better than anyone I’ve ever read (such as, “The name of the game is Hurt the Hero! Why? Because if he doesn’t hurt, why should we care?”); he also philosophizes about writing. (“What you write has an effect on the people who read it. Words have meaning, ideas have consequences.”)

And he poses questions worth pondering:

As a human being, you make a difference. Simply by existing, simply by being in the room you make a difference. What kind of difference do you want to make as a writer?

Your book, your story, your script — whatever you write — that’s your way of challenging the world. What do you want to say to the rest of your species?

How do you take readers someplace else and make them glad they went?

How do you create an experience of another life so vivid and compelling that for the moment it exists in the mind, it obscures and obliterates the reader’s own life?

How do you transport human consciousness into the realm of exhilaration and transformation?

How can you get so deeply into the story that you are telling it from the inside?

On Writing: The Name of the Game is “Hurt the Hero.”

I like my characters and don’t enjoy hurting them so my novels tend to focus on unraveling the mystery of the situation, because one thing I do understand is that at the heart of all books is a discovery. In a mystery, the discovery is the killer. In a romance, the discovery is love. In a character driven novel, the discovery is the nature of the character himself.

For the first time, though, I understand why the hero needs to be hurt. If the hero doesn’t hurt, why should we care? And if he doesn’t hurt, how would we ever discover his emotional core, what it is that he really cares about? When we discover what the character cares about, we care about him, and want to read to see how he reacts to the hurt and to find out what he is going to do to make it stop.

True character is revealed in the choices a person makes under pressure or when he is hurting or both. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation will be and the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature. Pressure is necessary. Choices made when nothing is at risk mean little.

In Worlds of Wonder: How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, David Gerrold wrote: “You need to ask yourself these questions in every situation. Asking these questions brings each scene to life: Why is the moment important? Where is the pain? Why does it hurt? And most important — what will make it worse?”

In life, experiences often become meaningful with reflection and time. In retrospect, a horrendous experience takes on an aura of excitement or even happiness because we remember being fully alive. In art, experiences are meaningful now, at the moment they are happening on the screen or in the novel. We can see instantly that the character is hurting, but we can also feel the excitement of the moment, the adrenaline rush. It all happens at once, the reflection and the experience, which explains why movies and books sometimes seem more real than life itself. Without the character hurting, however, the experience becomes muted, less real.

So: hurt the hero. I guess I’ll just have to learn to like it. Or at least learn how to do it well.