The Therapeutic Effect of Character Development

Character struggles, both internal and external, are crucial to character development and essential for a good story. External struggles can be rather grandiose and hard to relate to especially in fantasy and science fiction novels. Though that’s not to say it’s impossible. A lot of difficulties characters face can be smaller scale and more personal issues with other characters. These struggles often lend themselves to developing internal struggles that can be explored through thoughts and actions. Internal struggles are more personal and have a stronger impact to the growth of the character. But I’ve come to realize that developing internal struggles of characters has a rather surprising effect. While writing book 2 of my series, The Legend of Nariko, I’ve realized that developing my characters and working through their struggles helped me with my own.

This may not apply to all authors, but I believe that the characters a writer develops are a reflection of who they are. That isn’t to say it’s a one to one exact replica of the writer, a self insert character, but rather elements of who the author is and the personal struggles they may face. It makes the characters feel more real as their conflicts become more realized and grounded. It also has the added benefit of allowing the author to work through a natural progression of their own issues they may be facing.

In the past couple months I had personally been struggling with a lot of identity issues for who I was and who I wanted to be. A rather classic young adult character struggle that’s not very unique to be honest. But it was, in a way, therapeutic working through her struggle in the story as she faced issues I had faced and in the process of story writing I could explore what would happen if she made the decisions I couldn’t at the time. While not being an exact replica of the issues I had faced, the feelings she struggled with were very much my own and helped me work through the guilt I felt at the time.

A more internal issue I had worked through was far more interesting as I got to explore a philosophical approach to understanding more about it. I had been having very strong feelings of misanthropy due to a lot of issues both in my personal life and in the news. Misanthropy is a rather nasty and almost nihilistic where you start to avoid contact with others due to uncomfortable feelings of dislike towards your fellow people. This was a big problem for me as all I wanted to do was help people and that’s how I saw my identity. But while writing out Book 2, I got to explore both aspects of what misanthropy can lead to and how to overcome it slowly. It worked through multiple characters but in the end I ended up feeling a bit better and calmer for it.

While my own personal conflicts both internal and external are still plaguing me, being able to write it out and explore it through my own characters has helped me to view it in a different lens and ultimately feel more at peace with it. The other benefit is also creating characters that, while potentially having godly unearthly powers, are far more believable and relatable in a way that we can all understand.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful week! 🙂

– Raphael

P.S: Please don’t take this as writing being a suitable replacement for therapy. Whatever issues you may be facing there are always people who want to help and there’s nothing wrong with seeking them out. Personally I plan to eventually see a therapist and work through some of my own issues. Writing helps me contextualize it and work through it in a way that grants me a bit of peace, but it’s not a substitute by any means.

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