How to Make Sure Your Story Matters
Filed under: Tips for Writers Writing Mastery Tagged with: characters external journey hero how to write characters internal journey save the cat STC Starter Kit (LMAP) transformation writing mastery writing tips
When I look back at the 185 rejection letters I got from agents when I was trying to sell a book to a publisher, I can find one common theme throughout. And it usually looked something like this:
“Great voice! No story.”
At the time, I didn’t understand this critique. I was like, “What are you talking about? There’s 300 pages of story. I can print it out and hold it in my hand!”
Obviously I didn’t understand the feedback. But, after I sat down and taught myself plot and story structure, I finally understood what this meant. My problem wasn’t that I didn’t have a story. It was that I only had one.
This is one of the most powerful things I’ve learned about storytelling over the past 12 years of working as a full-time author and teaching others about plot and structure:
Every character in every great story–regardless of length, medium, or genre–has not one journey to complete but two. An external journey and an internal journey. And those journeys must be intricately linked.
To put it simply, the external journey is the one that the character physically takes, while the internal journey is the transformation that occurs as a result of that physical journey. And it’s that internal journey that so much of us forget about or neglect or simply don’t put enough effort into developing. But it’s also the journey that matters and makes your story matter.
The external story is the stuff that’s happening to the hero on the outside. The hero’s quest to find a buried treasure. The hero’s journey to another planet to recover a lost space probe. The hero fighting the evil queen who killed their brother.
The internal story, on the other hand, is the emotional stuff that’s happening to your hero on the inside. The little internal changes that are being triggered like tiny bombs. Or, in other words, it’s the hero’s internal journey toward learning their ultimate life lesson.
Let’s look at some examples!
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins:
External Journey: An alcoholic woman helps solve the case of a young woman’s disappearance.
Internal Journey: A troubled woman confronts the demons of her past.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
External Journey: A girl is forced to leave her home and fight to the death in an arena with 23 other teens.
Internal Journey: A girl finds the strength to stand up to the corrupt Capitol and refuse to be just another pawn in their games.
Midnight in Paris:
External Journey: A man discovers how to time travel to 1920s Paris.
Internal Journey: A man learns how to face up to his problems in the present instead of trying to escape them in the past.
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
External Journey: A woman becomes the caretaker for a quadriplegic man whom she falls in love with.
Internal Journey: A woman finds the courage to live her life for herself, and stop living it for everyone else.
Aha! I hope this helps you in your own writing journey (both external and internal).