Sanity Snippet #3

In Sanity Snippet #2, we began our book development journey by considering the importance of a solid idea, what we referred to as the story kernel. This idea/kernel has to be strong enough to carry the weight of the story for three to four hundred pages.

We learned that the kernel contains several key components: protagonist, goal, antagonist, stakes, genre, and hook. We ended Snippet #2 by writing our protagonist’s backstory overview. Today, we’ll continue developing our protagonist’s profile (the complete character profile will consume several Sanity Snippet’s).

First, a note about stories. To me, there are three broad categories of novels: 1) those where the protagonist has some external goal (winning the Super Bowl); 2) those where the protagonist has an internal goal (to forgive the man who accidentally killed his wife); and, 3) those where the protagonist has both an external and an internal goal (winning the Super Bowl and forgiving the man who accidentally killed his wife). The latter makes for a deeper, richer story. Experts refer to the external goal as the protagonist’s want or desire, and his internal goal as his need. Let’s focus on the third story category.

Every hero (our story’s main character, our protagonist) has a backstory that includes something that caused him great pain. Often, this is rooted in a particular event that caused deep psyche pain (example, a thirteen year old losing his only parent). Other times, the event could be a past mistake, something done in a moment of weakness, or be something caused by a general deficiency in our hero’s personality. Whatever the cause, we’ll call this the emotional wound, wound for short. Keep in mind the wound acts as active geyser, spouting multiple personality elements that negatively affect our protagonist including his primary fear, the lie he believes, his flaws, and other negative traits.

Personally, in the story kernel I’m considering, my thirteen year old protagonist, Billy Orr, recently experienced the death of his mother to cancer. This is Billy’s wound. It is his internal problem and will affect his journey to the end of my story.

Consider your protagonist and brainstorm his past and the various negative events he has experienced. Choose the one that caused him the most emotional pain and continues to negatively affect his life. It might be helpful to consider your story’s ending and how you want your protagonist to end up. This will determine whether you are writing a positive or negative character arc (of course, you can choose a flat arc but that dispels the need for the wound).
Start writing your thoughts. It’s okay to ramble and to repeatedly ask ‘what if’ questions.

For a thorough explanation of emotional wounds and many examples of each, visit

Photo by Nathan Cowley on

Author: Richard L. Fricks

Former CPA, attorney, and lifelong wanderer. I'm now a full-time skeptic and part-time novelist. The rest of my time I spend biking, gardening, meditating, photographing, reading, writing, and encouraging others to adopt The Pencil Driven Life.

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