On characters’ wounds

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“Henry James tells us: ‘What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character?’ It is character that ‘determines’ the author’s choices of external events. And it is character that is further ‘illustrated’ by his or her reactions to these events. In a visit to my Boston University classroom, author Josh Weil explained a similar process in creating his plots: ‘I find a character’s wound,’ Weil said, ‘and I poke a stick at it.’ The source of this wound is what I have come to refer to as the protagonist’s Wounding Event, a traumatic moment in the character’s life that often far precedes the story’s present.

“According to Weil the ‘wounding event’ is the event that sets the character’s most significant flaws and fears into place, the event that essentially sets the character into place. Wherever it appears in fiction (if it appears explicitly at all), it often determines the ‘incidents’ in the story’s present that will most resonate. The protagonist’s mask is forcedly removed. He or she stands naked before us. It is in this nakedness that we recognize both the character’s particular humanity as well as our own.”

—Michelle Hoover (x)

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