We’re continuing with the hero’s journey, and today I want to tell you about the trauma that awakens the hero and catapults him or her along their journey. The trauma can be a death (especially one that is unexpected or sudden), a divorce or split, job loss, illness or a move—especially one that is necessitated by financial burdens. These traumas comprise the most stressful events an individual can experience in their lifetime.
In The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, Andy Defresne’ journey begins when his wife is murdered and he is tried, convicted and sent to prison though he is an innocent man. It is one of any man’s worst nightmares, because all he has known is gone and he is left powerless, often victimized in a tough prison where there is no escape—or so we think. Andy embarks on the reluctant hero’s journey because it is not one of his making, but as we turn the pages we discover that Andy finds traits within himself that will not only keep him alive but eventually turn the tables on the corrupt prison management.
I try to remember the life-altering traumas when I write my own books. In Vicki’s Key, for example, the book begins with a recurring nightmare, a memory buried in Vicki’s consciousness when a CIA mission failed, resulting in innocent children’s deaths. It is that mission that so traumatizes her that she leaves the CIA and embarks on a new life—only to have the CIA catch up with her. She is transformed through the series as she gains strength and ultimately faces her demons.
The Tempest Murders begins with a different type of trauma when Constable Rian Kelly’s lover dies at the hands of a killer during one of the worst storms in Ireland’s history. We then switch to the present day to find Kelly’s great-great-nephew, Detective Ryan O’Clery, investigating a string of murders identical to those Kelly had been investigating—and Ryan discovers his nightmares are actually the memories of his ancestor. He, too, is transformed as he must face inner demons that have haunted him since childhood.
In A Thin Slice of Heaven, we encounter another type of trauma that leads our hero on her journey. Charleigh arrives at a remote castle in Northern Ireland anticipating a romantic anniversary celebration when she receives a text from her husband telling her he is leaving her for another woman. Stranded at the castle, she first wallows in her grief before pulling herself together and moving on—and in the process, discovering things about herself.
Great books thrive on conflict: they move the plot forward, they keep readers guessing at the outcome, and they ultimately change the main characters forever. A great book leaves you feeling like you know the main character as if he or she were a close friend; long after you’ve closed that last page, you find yourself thinking of them. It was like that for me as I read The Girl from Ballymor by Kathleen McGurl, the haunting story of a young woman experiencing the Irish Potato Famine in the late 1840’s. Kitty McCarthy had six children by the age of 30 and within a three-year span had lost her husband to a copper mine accident and five children to famine and disease. I found myself awakening during the night thinking of her life and how similar it must have been to thousands of Irish.
A life-transforming journey not only changes the main character but also has the ability to change the reader, our views of history and our world, and of mankind—where we came from and where we are heading.
Join the discussion on my Facebook page. Let me know which books and characters that have remained with you over the years, and their life-transforming journeys.
Pictures of the staged crime scene and Ireland are courtesy of FreeImages.com.