Something happened to your protagonist before the story began, leaving him incomplete. This hole, his inner need or internal goal, while he may be unaware of it, is the crux of your story’s emotional development plot line.
With Buffalo Bill on a crosscountry murdering spree, FBI trainee Clarice Starling is awarded her first official post in Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs.
Jack Crawford, Agent-in-Charge of the Behavioral Science Unit of the FBI in Quantico, Virginia, has sent Clarice to administer a profiling questionnaire to Hannibal Lecter, a virtuoso forensic psychiatrist and sociopath incarcerated in a Maryland mental institution for the well-earned term of nine consecutive life sentences. But the loss of her father at the age of nine has fractured Clarice. Outwardly stoic, she hides a gaping hole of need that prevails over her life.
When Clarice is made vulnerable by the asylum director’s lewd attempt to exploit her gender, the demons of Clarice’s past resurface and compete for her attention. Clarice ends up telling Lecter how she came from a small West Virginia town and was raised by her police officer father until he was shot on the scene of a robbery. Following her father’s death, Clarice confides to the inmate, she was sent to live on her uncle’s sheep farm, only to run away after she witnessed the slaughtering of lambs.
In a livid current, part thriller, part horror, Thomas Harris jockey’s his readers between the minds of criminologist and criminal, all the while teasing and honing his protagonist’s emotional development plot line.
Clarice’s childhood continues to trickle into her encounters with Lecter, unwittingly elevating him to one of three father figures presented in the plot’s central conflict. Leveraging the action plot line, Harris transforms a nation-wide manhunt into one woman’s search for the father she lost prematurely. In a deftly crafted spin that defies human reason but remains no less credible, Hannibal Lecter, serial killer and cannibal, becomes the heroine’s mentor.
Emotion gives meaning to action.
“Truth starts with world-building, creating not just a physical environment, but an emotional, psychological, tonal, formal, and linguistic space in which characters act against and react to other forces. And the believability of how these characters act determines truth.”
Like Harris, once we determine our character’s history, the foundation of his dramatic need, we can then surmise the mechanics of those forces at work in him. Becoming attuned to how they operate, both to fortify his strengths and to undermine his efforts, we gain a vision for the textural landscape of his pysche—the eyes from which he sees his world, the attitudes that taint and filter his thoughts, in addition to how his internal forces might vacillate and evolve during the course of his story.