Letter From The Editor - Issue 68 - April 2019

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  Writing Advice by Mette Ivie Harrison
May 2018

The Inner Journey and the Outer Journey

I talk about this a lot in my classes. Every book has an inner journey and an outer journey. The outer journey is the one we usually think about when we talk about plot. The outer journey is about where the characters go. It’s about who they fight. It’s about conflict and danger and deadlines and bad guys and threats and raising tension. But that’s not the only story you’re telling. If it is (and I admit, there are some published books that are so heavy on the outer journey that you have to have a microscope to find the inner journey), you need to reconsider the inner journey.

Humans create and enjoy stories because they want to know about themselves. They want to see another human who is dealing with problems and overcoming them. This is the inner journey. The inner journey is the character’s journey from where they are in the beginning to where they are in the end. The inner journey is the why for the outer journey. Why does this matter? Why do we care? (Again, I will say that I sometimes find books where there seems to be no why. I don’t finish reading them because no amount of “action” will make me care about characters who have no inner life.)

Ideally, the inner journey and the outer journey of your book are related. That is, the events that happen should be the only events that will help this character on their inner journey to more humanity (or they should feel that way, at least). Each time a character faces a new obstacle, the character needs to learn something key. You as the author have the job of making sure that the obstacles are chosen and arranged in such a way that they lead to the character development you want. The reason for all the events in the story is to make the character see the need for change and to allow them space for change. Or to find those who will help them move forward on the path to enlightenment.

You can have the moment of climax for the inner journey be just before or just after the climax, or at the very moment of the climax of the book. But it should be somewhere near there, and not days and days before or years after. Because that’s what a book is. A book is both inner journey and outer journey. It shows us that the events in our lives have meaning, that there is a purpose. You as the writer give the reader this. It’s your job. Even if you don’t believe it yourself. Or you can go write a literary novel with neither inner journey or outer journey, but don’t come blame me if you don’t have readers.

Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison

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