What Type of “Gloves” Does Your Hero Wear?
I’m currently enrolled in a mindfulness course that introduced me to a wonderful passage from The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. As the instructor read it aloud, I found myself not only thinking of my own experiences with the world, but of those of my characters. Of all characters, actually.
This is the passage. Feel free to read it with yourself in mind, or the hero of your current work in progress, and see what rises to the surface.
“We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved, and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time.
When we hesitate in being direct, we unknowingly slip something on, some added layer of protection that keeps us from feeling the world, and often that thin covering is the beginning of a loneliness which, if not put down, diminishes our chances of joy.
It’s like wearing gloves every time we touch something, and then, forgetting we chose to put them on, we complain that nothing feels quite real.”
– Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
Beautiful, right? And how perfectly does that align to the art of creating characters?
This passage immediately made me think of the hero Kaz Brekker in Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology. He literally wears gloves to protect himself against his fear of intimacy and human touch.
But soon after, I realized that all heroes are wearing some type of gloves (real or metaphorical). Because all heroes are wounded. At some point in their lives, they’ve “unknowingly slipped something on, some added layer of protection” that keeps them from feeling the world and experiencing true joy.
This is who your hero is at the start of your story. A gloved survivor who “wastes so much energy trying to cover up who” they are (probably by chasing down their wants instead of focusing on their needs.) All the while, they have the distinct feeling that something is missing. Something doesn’t feel quite real.
Regardless of your genre, regardless of how much action, or thrills, or romance, or chills you throw at your hero (and your reader), the soul of your story is ultimately about removing this layer of protection. It’s about your hero finding the strength to dig deep down and pull out the “shard of glass” (as we say in Save the Cat! terms) so that the world finally feels real again.
Or as the rest of book’s passage so eloquently puts it:
“Our challenge each day is not to get dressed to face the world but to unglove ourselves so that the doorknob feels cold and the car handle feels wet and the kiss goodbye feels like the lips of another being, soft and unrepeatable.”
I invite you to think about this as you craft your characters. Think about what types of gloves they’ve unknowingly slipped on. How that changes the way they see and touch and experience the world. And what it will take for them to finally “unglove” themselves.
I guess it should come as no surprise to me that this quote–taken from a book shelved as “personal transformation”–would shed some light on my hero’s transformation.
Our heroes are, if nothing else, human. They are on the same path to wholeness as us. That’s why we’re drawn to them.
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