Making Your Characters Feel Feelings: Hope

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’t, the impossibles, and the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me…anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

—Shel Silverstein

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The power of hope is often the only thing that stands between your character and despair. As long as they have hope, they can recover and endure everything. It’s an emotion born in the heart, not the mind, and steps in when goals, passion, and inspiration aren’t enough.

Hope: a desire for something combined with the anticipation of it happening. 

The core of most mindfulness practices is the belief that a mere change in mindset can make big things happen. That with the right outlook, your hopeful character character can fight and survive a terminal cancer diagnosis, find a job and a home for her children so that they no longer have to live in a car. Hope can sustain and motivate your character when their circumstances look bleak.

How do you inspire hope in a downtrodden character?

Without hope, you character won’t have the energy or motivation to change their situation. Your plot will put them in difficult situations that will require their commitment to their desired goal. Change is very difficult. Here are a few ways to make sure your character’s “hope springs eternal.”

1. Give them a goal and show them the path to reach it.

If your hopeful character can see the necessary steps to achieve their goal they will keep moving toward it. Outline each step along the way then think of something that will keep it just out of their reach, but will also tease them with a positive result to keep them striving. 

2. Give them a mentor or a role model who has already achieved their desire goal. 

If you hopeful character can see someone who has navigated the same adversities and hardships, the will be more likely to persevere. Make sure this mentor is a role model, or a confidant they can confide in when things get difficult. That doesn’t necessarily mean that this has to be a person in their everyday life. It could be a person they idolize and model their steps after. A mentor from afar.

3. Have them start where they are. 

Too often folks are discouraged before they begin, but this is not a characteristic of your hopeful character. Even if the goal is seemingly too big and out of reach, have them take one small step toward it and use that momentum to pull them through the plot. When those are met with positive results, give them another small goal to achieve. Without this sort of forward motion, you hopeful character will read as someone who believes they are powerless to change their situation. Taking that one step out of their current undesirable situation will make it easier for them to move on to the next. 

4. Make them kind and giving. 

Your reader is more likely to root for a hopeful character who is kind, and giving to others. It calm your hopeful character, relieve stress, and can and pain if your hopeful character suffers from some sort of chronic illness. Research also says it releases serotonin and can improve your hopeful character’s mood. So send someone their way that needs more help than they do and write about how that changes and uplifts them.

5.  Give them something to believe in. 

Most will probably interpret this as some sort of religion or spirituality, which it can be. Faith and hope are great allies. Belief in a higher power or that “you’re not alone” can support your hopeful character during times when they feel they might give up. However, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a religion. It could be education, or a core value like the importance of family, frugality or financial sacrifice, honesty, or that maintaining a healthy lifestyle will pull them through any obstacles in their way. 

6. Have them practice mindfulness while moving through their every day life.

Your hopeful character may have faced a lot of hardships that always seemed to turn out in ways that kept them in them in undesirable circumstances. This will often make their thoughts wander to the past and focus on those events, or other painful situations. Your hopeful character will have to make an effort to push those thoughts away and focus on the here and now. An attitude of gratitude goes a long way!

If you’re starting with a character that is stuck in their hopelessness, highlight their judgments of others. Pay special attention to the internal dialogue on the page that uses discouraging language like “nothing works out for me” or  “kindness is rarely ever rewarded.” Notice how those thoughts control their behavior and keep them locked in a pattern that produces nothing but despair. A hopeless character will think that none of these things will work for them. Your job as an author is the challenge them in ways that will show their growth toward being more hope filled in a believable and relatable way!