Abandon Your Protagonist at the Side of the Road

From Writer Unboxed:

My brother is a counselor. A very good one who won’t tell any of his clients’ stories, even when our dad asks him to strip all identifying features. Dad knows better, but he’s a curious man who’s never been afraid of hearing no (which made him a great entrepreneur). One night, after refusing to answer, my brother kept thinking about how he could honor our dad’s desire to connect with him about his work.

About an hour later, he told us about an image and a corresponding therapeutic technique he’s been using with clients who’ve experienced trauma and cannot directly address what happened to them. They’ve built up so much resistance that they shut down when they try to even name it. He’s given these patients this story:

As you’ve gone through your life, when you experienced something you couldn’t face, you went on, but to survive, you left your pre-trauma self on the side of the road and went on without them. You may have done this a number of times. Let’s invite those abandoned yous to sit around the table with us and talk.

His clients have found this gentle and poignant exercise helpful. They’re able to re-connect with the self/selves who experienced the trauma and begin to deal with their misbeliefs, their unhelpful coping strategies–even if they can’t say what happened to them.

Which made me think of our protagonists.

When building our characters, we usually identify a moment in their past that is the root of the problem that will be solved in the course of our story. Whether we call it the Origin Story, The Wound, a Marker Moment, or something else, we create a before/after: Before this, I believed X, but after I believed D. They build up layers of habits, beliefs, and self-talk to cope. It is the action of the story to get them to face the results of that moment.

Using my brother’s image, the protagonist abandons their old-self on the side of the road and goes on.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed