You know that moment in a book or movie, near the end, where everything has gone terribly wrong? All has been lost, the main character appears to have been brutally defeated, the mentor has probably kicked the bucket, and generally things couldn’t look bleaker?
Writing feels like that moment.
Or more accurately, one point in the writing process feels akin to that dark night. It’s that time after the intrepid writer has pushed through the first draft of the story – they’ve brainstormed the development process, sailed through the beginning, blazed through the middle – and then quite suddenly …everything falls apart.
And this despair can be summed up in one soul-crushing sentence: “What happens at the end?"
The writer realizes that they don’t know. A giddy optimism has propelled them thus far, a chipper little voice in the back of their head assuring "Don’t worry about the end yet! It’ll sort itself out!”
That little happy voice, it turns out, is a liar.
But your reign of terror is over, lying voice. There’s a way to fix it so you can never trick another writer again. Because knowing what happens at the end comes down to knowing something right in the beginning: knowing three integral facets of the main character. If you know this golden trio, you’ll have a much better chance of knowing exactly what happens at the end: because the end is all about these three.
So what are these three things?
GOAL: What the main characters wants, and will pursue throughout the story, overcoming all obstacles and enemies to obtain.
WANT: Their reasons for wanting it, which is usually to fill some emotional void they sense in their lives, something they believe will fix life and make it complete.
NEED: What they TRULY require to fill that emotional void, to be complete.
Yup, three of the things listed in that other post “10 Elements of a Main Character”. But now, we’re going to delve into more detail, the elements of a good Goal, a good Want, and a good Need.
So what goes into a story GOAL? Goals should be …
SINGULAR: The character must have one objective, and only one. A desire, and the overcoming of obstacles to achieve it, form the spine of the story. If there are two, the character is split between two storylines; they are trying to balance two stories at once, confusing them and confusing the reader.
TANGIBLE: The goal must be something REAL. Something we can see and feel.
SPECIFIC: In addition to being tangible, it must be highly specific. If the goal was to “escape” it would have to be “escape to a definite destination”. It can’t be at all vague or easily fulfilled by many objects: it must be finding a specific object, winning a specific prize, getting to a specific destination, etc.
Like in Tangled: The goal is “see the floating lights.”
NOT EMOTIONS/STATES OF MIND: The goal can’t be something like “happiness” or “belonging” or “love.” Those aren’t tangible, they’re not specific, and most of all the reader can’t envision it being achieved. The goal CAN be a physical representation of an emotional state; obtaining this specific and physical objective will mean achieving the emotional state.
IMAGINABLE: We should be able to easily envision the main character achieving the goal. When we see it, we know it’s happening, know that everything has been building to this moment.
Like in Monsters Inc, we know what getting Boo back home is going to look like (though in the beginning, we don’t know that it’s going to be heartbreaking.)
NOBLE: The goal should be something the reader can cheer on. The reader understands why the main character wants it. The reader can relate to the goal, and the emotional reason behind it.
Cheer like this.
STAKES: If they fail, something will be lost. If they choose not to pursue the goal, things will be very bad. There can’t be a sense that if they stop going after the goal at any point, life could just go back to how it was. When the catalyst came in and shattered their ordinary world and everyday routine, the story entered the realm of “nothing will ever be the same” and the only way to restore order to their universe is to achieve this thing. And that thing that will be lost must be something we can relate to, something significant: love, safety, family, life, future, freedom, loved ones.
What goes into the WANT? The want is…
CONNECTED TO GHOST: The ghost is a moment from their past that still haunts them, and is the source of their moral and psychological weaknesses. Their reasons for wanting the goal should be connected to this moment. They believe that if they achieve it, their world will be fixed, life will go back to how it was before this haunting moment occurred.
MISGUIDED: And they’re usually always wrong. Achieving the goal just as it is will never fix what’s broken in their lives.
SAVING GRACE: It’s often this Want behind their goal that acts as their saving grace in the eyes of the reader. Sometimes it’s hard to connect with a character – they’re difficult to understand, easy to find unappealing, even downright unpleasant – until we know why they are the way they are. (Think Marlin from Finding Nemo; he’s pretty unlikable and frustrating half the time, but we know why he’s behaving that way, so it’s easier to forgive him.)
What do all of these character NEEDS have in common?
HOW TO FIX LIFE: In their pursuit of the tangible goal, something else is revealed that will truly save their lives. This is some truth that will banish the power of the ghost, let the character see themselves clearly for the first time, and show them what needs to be done to live a better life in the future. This usually arrives right after that “Dark Night” moment, which is usually when the goal has been achieved or lost; the truth revealed in this moment will allow them to snatch victory from this darkest defeat, renew their courage, inspire them to soldier on and pursue the story goal once more.
NEW WORLDVIEW: This crucible of battle and revelation of truth changes them. They’re not the same person anymore. They’ve conquered the thing that haunts them, overcome weaknesses, have greater knowledge of themselves and life.
Okay! So how does this work? Let’s use Wreck-It Ralph, because I’m in the mood.
What is Ralph’s Goal?
A single medal will suffice. A tangible medal that we can easily envision. A specific medal, namely the one he got from Hero’s Duty. A medal that we can imagine him obtaining, bringing to the Nicelanders, and using to change his lot in life.
It’s easy to cheer on because it means Ralph doesn’t have to live in the garbage, alone anymore. We can relate to it, and cheer it on, because nobody wants to be alone (especially not while living in garbage).
And the stakes for this are obvious: ___.
Now how about what Ralph wants?
This medal is connected to Ralph’s ghost which is years and years of being the bad guy. The bad, unlikable, unloved, unworthy, friendless guy.
He thinks if he gets it, he’ll become the good guy at long last, and his loneliness and lack of self-worth will end.
How is this his saving grace? It immediately makes the audience empathize with Ralph. Everyone, at some point, has felt alone and unloved.
What about what he Needs?
Getting the medal doesn’t work out for Ralph. It doesn’t fix anything. What he NEEDS is this medal:
To become a hero, he needs to be the hero for Vanellope.
“As long as that little kid likes me … “
So these three are the destination. These are what everything is going towards. If you know these three elements, you’ll have a much better chance of an ending forming in your head. So take that annoying little liar voice.
You know what that voice looks like? Her. It looks like Umbridge.
“I don’t like your main character. He’s kind of obnoxious.” my beta reader laughingly told me, after reading the first chapter of my novel.
On the surface, I looked like this:
Inside, I looked like this:
Aloud, I said “Oh, well, he’s kind of hard to understand. He changes by the end.”
Inside, I screamed “How could you not like him?! Do you have a heart?! Is there a void where your soul should be?! Are you actually a Dementor that’s really good at makeup? Well, I guess this is what the Dementors are doing after getting kicked out of Azkaban!”
Outside: “But I really enjoyed it!” *Hugs between broken writer and Dementor in disguise* “Thank you for reading!"
But you know what? That person that might be a soul-sucking cloaked demon creature? They were right. The character was unlikable, or more accurately, there was no reason to cheer him on. There was nothing to make the reader connect with him, relate to him, transfer themselves into his story, feel affection towards him.
And if the reader doesn’t connect with the character through empathy? Nothing else in the story can work. Everything relies on this one fictional person. The basic definition of story is "A flawed hero with a goal overcoming obstacles to reach that goal, and how that journey changes them.” So without character, you don’t have story. Without empathy from the reader, you don’t even have character.
So what is empathy when it comes to characters?
It’s the process of a reader transferring their own lives onto the character. When this happens, the character’s goal and inner desires, values and weaknesses, everything about them, become proxies for our own. We learn of a shared piece of human nature between us, something we have in common on a significant inner level, and suddenly we want to see this character succeed. Because now, they are us – and we want to see ourselves succeed in real life. We feel what they feel, we experience what they experience.
The best way to sum up character empathy in my opinion, is this quote from C.S.Lewis: “Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another ‘Really? You too? I thought I was the only one!’”
Which doesn’t mean the character has to be an angelic little cherub …
There are characters that operate in a moral gray area, there are characters that are downright awful, there are characters that shouldn’t be lovable …but we love them. So this is NOT saying that a main character has to be a perfect angel that rescues baby squirrels when they’re not busy volunteering at the local soup kitchen, it just means there’s something WORTHWHILE in the character that persuades the reader to stick around. We need a reason to relate with that at-first-glance unlikable character. Just as we have flawed people in our own lives who we can forgive and love.
A good quote for this one would be this, by G.K.Chesterton: “That’s the great lesson of Beauty and the Beast; that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”
So how does a writer accomplish a good empathetic connection?
Luckily for us, establishing this only takes a little planning in the beginning of the story. Certain elements foster empathy, elements which you can give to your character and display in the story. Making sure to incorporate a few of these will ensure that first connection between reader and character. A connection which you, the author, will then be able to grow. It’s this tiny first note of shared humanity which deepens into those important links we hold with characters. We’re living people, they’re imagined and comprised of words on a page; yet these people can be friends to us, family, mentors, role models, and become some of the most influential people in our lives.
And how does that begin? Evoking empathy.
And how do you evoke empathy? Well here are the characteristics that human beings instinctively identify with and admire …
– Courage (This is the one EVERY main character should possess. Gumption to pursue what they want separates main from background characters.)
It’s a good plan to give your main character at least FIVE of these empathetic little “virtues.”
If this sounds like a resume, that’s kind of what it is. “Dear Potential Reader, I’m applying for the job of Main Character of this book series. I aspire to consume your every waking thought and drastically change your life, for better and worse.” It’s a diagram of the worthwhile traits of the hero, the characteristics that win us over, which promise the reader “If you follow my story, knowing me – and experiencing the story through me – will be well worth your time.”
These traits will be displayed in the set-up of the story, the first ten pages or so. But the story CANNOT stop to let the character exhibit these winning behaviors; the story must KEEP PROGRESSING, every empathetic element must be shown with a story reason for existing within a scene. Like exposition, empathy needs to be added in subtly, as the story motors onward, slipping into the reader’s knowledge without them noticing. If it’s a scene created for the express purpose of convincing the reader “This character is lovable! Love them! I said love them!” then it will be glaringly obvious and the reader will feel the exact opposite. (They’ll also feel that way about the author, incidentally.)
Now! How does this work?
Harry is the poster child for being treated unfairly. Yet in the face of the abusive treatment of his childhood, Harry is courageous. He does not succumb to the Dursley’s relentless campaign to stamp the magic out of him, and become a proper Dursley; though this would’ve won their approval, put him in their good graces, and made his life exponentially easier – but he didn’t do it. He knew they were wrong, knew what was right, and refused to become like them. So heck yes Sorting Hat, there is “plenty of courage, I see”. He was loved by his parents, by the three that dropped him off at his Aunt and Uncle’s, and by the majority of the Wizarding World. He’s also snarky, loving, and in constant danger.
Every reason why we care about Judy is established in the first few scenes. She’s courageous. She’s funny. She’s loved by her parents. She’s motivated by noble values. Definitely goal oriented, hard working, and smart. She’s also in imminent danger, and being treated unfairly.
If we took out the pieces of the story meant to evoke our empathy, what would happen?
Nobody would care. Judy Hopps would have been an annoying, smug, and consumed by ruthless ambition. Harry Potter would have ceased to exist because everything about him is empathetic.
Establishing these early allows us to begin the process of temporarily transferring our lives into a story. Or in the case of some life-changing stories, not temporarily transferring, but letting them become part of our souls forever.
Yup, having your story connect with a reader forever starts with just a little empathy. Pretty useful.
Oh, and speaking of souls, give me mine back, Dementor reader. I learned how to make people like my characters. Now you’re out of the Azkaban job and the beta reading job.
The Moon indicates our emotional style. But equally important, it indicates how
we experienced our mother and our early environment and how that affected us psychologically.
Our early environment and the type and degree of nurturing we received are critical in shaping our
psychology and establishing a sense of security and trust. In this culture and in most others, the
father teaches the ways of the world and how to function in it. The mother’s role, on the other hand,
is to build the foundation of security, trust, and love necessary for healthy feelings about others and
ourselves. If this foundation is cracked or insufficient, we will not have the emotional resources to
face our task as an adult of providing for our own survival and that of others.
Our family and our early environment are selected by the soul before life and can, therefore, be
read in the chart. The Moon and its aspects, the ruler of the fourth house and its aspects, and the
planets in the fourth house and their aspects describe our early environment. They also describe the
mother and her attention to us. More accurately, they describe our experience of her and our early
environment. Although these aspects describe both the early environment and the mother, the
planets within the fourth house seem to describe the environment more than they do the mother.
And the houses of the fourth house ruler and the Moon describe the mother’s interests and where she
puts her energy. If we have been more influenced in our early years by our father or another
caretaker, the Moon and the fourth house will describe that individual.
Moon in Aries
The early environment of this Moon sign is likely to be colored by competition and conflict. The
conflict may be between the parents, the siblings, or any combination of family members. This
Moon sign also may signify animosity or anger on the part of the mother toward her family or spouse or in general. In any case, the home environment is often tense and competitive, and the
individual who grows up in it may be tense and angry as well. On a more positive note, the mother
may be strong, independent, assertive, and possibly athletic and encourages these traits in her child.
Some with this Moon sign have families who are involved in the military or athletics. In general, the
environment is more masculine and encourages the development of masculine traits even in its
Moon in Taurus
Unless the Moon is afflicted, the Taurus Moon’s early environment is likely to be peaceful and
stable and meet the child’s physical needs. The home is likely to be comfortable. The family may
even be well-off financially. The mother is often affectionate, dependable, and a good cook.
However, little attention may be given to emotional and intellectual needs. With this Moon sign,
security and material comforts often supersede emotional needs. Consequently, many with this
Moon sign repress or are unaware of their feelings. Children in such families often follow the model
presented them by finding comfort and satisfaction in material things rather than in people. Love
becomes equated with food and gifts. As a result, their relationships may be with toys, food, or
Moon in Gemini
Gemini Moons are likely to be bright and intellectually inclined, and the mother fosters this. The
mother usually plays an educative role and happily meets the child’s intellectual needs. This is a
home where education is valued and reading and schoolwork are emphasized. However, the child’s
emotional and physical needs may not be attended to as enthusiastically. Although the mother may
be an intellectual role model, she may be less helpful in modeling other skills, such as intimacy and
managing in the world. She may not be very affectionate or emotionally demonstrative. In some
cases, the mother feels more like a friend, a peer, or an aunt.
Moon in Cancer
This Moon sign is ideal for establishing a solid foundation for adulthood. Unless the Moon is
afflicted, the mother probably enjoyed being mother and homemaker. She is likely to have met the
child’s physical and emotional needs. When our physical needs are met, we feel valued and
recognized; when our emotional needs are met, we learn to value and trust our feelings. Feelings are
important because they point to our needs, and only by having our needs met can we grow
physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. So, recognition of our feelings is crucial in our early years. It is how self-worth is built and tantamount to being validated as an individual. The
Cancer Moon’s mother is someone who attends to her child’s feelings and makes herself available
physically and emotionally, which supports the development of self-esteem. On the other hand, the
ties with the mother can be too close. The mother is identified with her children and may be
possessive, smothering, and overly protective. This may make it difficult for the child to grow up
and establish an independent identity.
Moon in Leo
When it is not afflicted, the gift of this Moon sign is a firm sense of self and self-worth. Confidence
can go a long way in life. This gift of confidence instilled by the mother establishes a foundation for
the Leo Moon’s future successes. The mother’s warm, expressive nurturing style lends confidence to
her child. She is likely to have showered her Leo Moon child with attention and affection, so the
child comes to expect this from others. This may, in part, be a self-promoting act in that she views
her child as an extension of her own ego and love flows from this place of pride. Her child can do
no wrong because it is her child. She is likely to encourage her child’s creativity and self-expression
and may be creative herself. She is dramatic, forceful, and a show-stealer. The child learns to get her
attention by doing the same.
Moon in Virgo
The early nurturing that Virgo Moons receive may be dedicated but dry. The mother is likely to be
efficient, orderly, hardworking, and responsible but emotionally inexpressive. She is educated and
thorough in her approach to motherhood, studying all the latest manuals about raising children. This
care and attention is noticed by the child and makes up in many ways for the mother’s lack of
warmth and playfulness. Nevertheless, Virgo Moons may struggle with expressing their emotions,
having not had a model for this. Although they may not learn to be emotionally expressive, the
dedicated care given to them is often sufficient to build their self-esteem. They, in turn, make
dedicated and efficient mothers. On the other hand, the child’s self-esteem might be undermined if
the mother is hypercritical and fussy, as is often the case with this Moon sign. In that case, the
individual is likely to become self-critical or critical of others too.
Moon in Libra
When not afflicted, this Moon sign represents a beneficial home environment. The early home life
is likely to be harmonious and peaceful, and the mother takes pride in providing a home that is both
aesthetically pleasing and emotionally supportive. The absence of conflict and argument in the home is often apparent with Libra Moons, for they mirror this non-confrontational style in their
relationships. They are likely to have learned how to negotiate and compromise in this early
atmosphere, which can later serve them well in their own family relationships and work. The
mother might be artistically inclined, refined, and well-versed in social etiquette. Culture and the
arts might be emphasized in the home.
Moon in Scorpio
The early environment of Scorpio Moons is often difficult and intensely emotional. Abuse or
misuse of power and authority are a possibility, leaving the individual angry or repressed. The
mother or another family member may be domineering, manipulative, possessive, or controlling.
There is often an undercurrent of hostility and resentment in the home and a sense of deep, dark
secrets that no one is allowed to speak about. The secrets could include such things as violence,
sexual abuse, addiction, criminality, psychological problems, or illegitimate children. On the other
hand, the mother may have been highly attentive to the child’s emotional needs and bonded deeply
with him or her. This is fine for the infant, who needs this bonding, but as the child matures, this can
feel overbearing and possessive. Since identification by both parent and child is so strong, Scorpio
Moons often have difficulty breaking the tie with their mothers as adults. The emotional intensity of
this relationship often continues over the years. This deep psychic connection between the mother
and child may, in fact, originate in a former lifetime.
Moon in Sagittarius
This Moon sign often represents a less traditional nurturing experience. The mother’s nurturing style
is easygoing and liberal. Freedom is important to her and this attitude is conveyed to the child by
allowing him or her freedom to explore, ask questions, and investigate life. However, there may be
too little responsibility expected from the child and too few rules to allow the child to develop the
inner discipline necessary for adulthood. Or, the mother may be off having her own adventure. So,
although the mother may be a model of independent action and adventure, she may not be available
to provide the security and stability that a child needs. She might lack responsibility and behave
more like a friend than a parent. It is common for those with this Moon sign to live in a foreign
country or be influenced by foreigners when they are growing up, perhaps by traveling a lot. The
military family is an example of this. The family values freedom more than they do stability. They
often move or travel a lot.
Moon in Capricorn
With this Moon sign, something may be lacking in the early environment. The mother may be ill
and unable to care for the child, absent from the child’s life, depressed, repressed emotionally, over-
worked, or unable to cope with the duties of motherhood. Sometimes the mother dies. Harshness is
another possibility. The mother may be unloving, overbearing, strict, rigid, and restrictive, allowing
little leeway for the child to act like a child or express his or her emotions. In any case, the child
receives insufficient mothering. On the other hand, the early home life may be stable, secure,
orderly, and attentive to responsibilities, supplying the child with the structure and discipline needed
to function effectively in the world as an adult.
Moon in Aquarius
The Aquarius Moon’s early home life and mother are likely to be unique or unusual in some way.
The individual may grow up in a household with progressive ideas about child rearing and
considerably more freedom than most children. This free and tolerant atmosphere exposes the child
to ideas that other children might not encounter. However, although this is an advantage
intellectually, the child may have difficulty getting his or her need for closeness met. Aquarius,
although tolerant and altruistic, is not known for its emotional warmth. Young children, however,
do need close emotional interactions with adults to form a solid foundation of trust and a sturdy
sense of self. As a result, Aquarius Moons may learn at an early age not to expect others to meet
their emotional needs. Consequently, as adults, they may have trouble addressing the emotional
needs of others. When afflicted, this Moon sign may indicate a chaotic home, inconsistent nurturing,
divorce, or a disrupted home life, which can leave emotional scars and affect the individual’s ability
to form intimate relationships later on. Several moves or changes in the early years are common.
These can either cause insecurity or teach the individual to make the best of change.
Moon in Pisces
Pisces Moons may undergo some loss or hardship in relation to the mother. She may be
psychologically incapable of caring for her child, mentally ill, addicted to drugs or alcohol, or
neglectful. On the other hand, she may be artistic or musical. She is often religious, kind, and
selfless. Religious or spiritual activities may be carried out in the home. In either case, Pisces Moons
learn compassion, either through their own suffering or their mother’s compassionate care. When
they are cared for lovingly, they learn to care lovingly for others. If they have been neglected,
however, they may grow up with the same psychological damage as their mother and be prone to
drug abuse and mental illness.
The women’s protest that sparked the Russian Revolution
The first day of the Russian Revolution – 8 March (23 February in the old Russian calendar) – was International Women’s Day, an important day in the socialist calendar. By midday of that day in 1917 there were tens of thousands of mainly women congregating on the Nevsky Prospekt, the principal avenue in the centre of the Russian capital, Petrograd, and banners started to appear.
The slogans on the banners were patriotic but also made forceful demands for change: “Feed the children of the defenders of the motherland,” read one; another said: “Supplement the ration of soldiers’ families, defenders of freedom and the people’s peace.”
(This is not the 4th house cusp in your natal chart, it’s in your draconic chart, if you don’t know how to generate it, ask!)
Aries IC: You wanted a family that was fun and outgoing and assertive. You wanted them to be active within your life as a child, you wanted close connections that were never to be broken. You would’ve loved for your family to be more identified in your life, and you wanted to play an active role.
Taurus IC: You wanted a family that financially supported you and gave you the things you need. You wanted a beautiful, calm, and traditional family and home. You wanted a home that was secure and that would last. Mostly just wanted to be comfortable around your family.
Gemini IC: You wanted a family that you felt like you can talk to about anything. Talking about everything, no hidden thoughts, you would’ve loved the crazy hustle and feel of debates and talking within the home. You wanted good communication, and a community that felt like home.
Cancer IC: You wanted the normal and loving and caring family that was supportive of your emotions and actions. You wanted to have the tight-nit motherly connection and the never ending love through out the house. You wanted solace, comfort, and closeness more than anything in your family.
Leo IC: You wanted all of the love and attention in your family. You wanted to feel like royalty, and be treated like a princess/prince. You wanted to be in the limelight of your home, always getting what you wanted and needed. You wanted your parents to be fierce and resilient people.
Virgo IC: You wanted a clean cut family, orderly, and helpful to each other. Sharing chores and supporting each other through thick and thin. You wanted you family to talk about everything and be knowledgeable of the present day. You wanted a daily routine within the home.
Libra IC: You wanted a loving family where everyone was treated with respect and kindness and equality. You wanted to have a family where everything was shared and love was every where in the air. You wanted a beautiful home where you felt like loving others wasn’t hard.
Scorpio IC: You wanted a family of deep and close emotional connections. You wanted to trust your family and have unbreakable bonds and secrets. You wanted to be able to be loved and cared for so deeply and unconditionally. The trust you wanted between you and your family were stout.
Sagittarius IC: You wanted a family that was open and freedom-giving. You wanted to be able to go out and have fun without any restrictions from your family. You wanted to travel and learn a lot with your family. You wanted a family that was more liberal and trusting.
Capricorn IC: You wanted a family that was disciplining and organized. Traditional and hardworking through a system of merit. You got what you worked for and you saw that as just. Living in a home where you felt like a responsible adult was important to you. You wanted your parents to work jobs that “cool,” or of high social standing.
Aquarius IC: You wanted a family that was accepting of you. You wanted to have you family appreciate you for all of your quirks and little odd hobbies. You wanted all of humanity to be like family. You wanted a family that was “smart,” meaning that you wanted your parents to be college graduates or people of high profession.
Pisces IC: You wanted a family that was reclusive from society. Highly spiritual and secretive. You wanted a family that was all loving and highly in touch with your faith or a certain faith. You wanted a family that was loving in a way that it touched every heart that ever walked in your home. Love and emotions would radiate from every corner of the home.