The new year starts with grueling self-inflicted changes, but why do so very few of those changes last? Fiction has the answer, or at least the structure of fiction suggests one…
Most people are familiar with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. He articulated this story structure in 1949 and it still holds up as a blueprint for a main character’s dynamic change. These short sentences should sound familiar because they are the plot of most of the stories you have read or watched in your lifetime:
A hero leaves the status quo to address an issue. They develop new approaches and attitudes to better deal with this problem because their old ways don’t work. Finally, the hero returns home different than they were before. The end.
Joseph Campbell wrote down seventeen (17) steps, but I am not going through each of them for you right now because each step isn’t exactly relevant to this conversation.
The part that I want to discuss is the necessary change that the hero goes through to be successful. I used the word dynamic earlier on purpose because dynamic characters change. Characters who don’t change are called static.
Real change happens when we are forced to adapt to challenges that will not be resolved by doing things the old way. It doesn’t matter whether the new habit is about trusting others, working with a team, learning to work on your own, accepting responsibility, or learning how to let things go, the hero needs to be torn from their comfort and forced to act in a way that is going to help them succeed.
The cold reality is that most of us aren’t willing to go through that in our daily lives and I don’t blame you. Comfort is comfortable. This is often why we see the most growth and change in ourselves after a traumatic loss or an unexpected setback. And that makes it harder, because who wants to change when everything seems okay? Yeah, we know it could be better, but that requires work, and sometimes work is hard to justify when things are just fine.
My suggestion? Put yourself through the Hero’s Journey. What is your antagonist right now? Relationships? Setting time aside to write? Starting a new career? Write down what you have been doing to address it (or avoid it). Are you solving the problem or are you managing your discomfort?
Once you figure out what you need to get done, you can start figuring out how to do it. Joseph Campbell suggests a mentor. There are professionals who do this, but friends and family members work fine as long as you can trust them.
Don’t worry about stiff and declarative resolutions. Intentions are more of a direction than a destination, which reduces some of the pressure.
Did you want to read more books? Get a library card, download the Libby app, and download e-books and audiobooks from your public library for free. Listen during your commute to work or read on your phone while waiting at the dentist’s office.
Did you want to start writing? Find one hour a day in which you are left alone and get typing. It doesn’t have to be a lot of words at first. Just enough to build the habit. Once you develop that inertia, things will be a lot easier.
Achieve your own dynamic character development in 2023.
My intention for 2023 is to talk with people who share my passion for story structure, character development, and all of that nerdy trash because it makes me smile and gives me an opportunity to review how I can get better at what I enjoy doing.
So why not help me get off to a good start by subscribing and commenting?
I’m looking forward to hearing what you’ve got planned for 2023.
Learn more about the Hero’s Journey: