Who Is the Character

The next thing you need to ask in planning your metaphor is, "What character or characters will best communicate these therapeutic messages to the child?" If the outcome is greater confidence or self-assertiveness, and the child needs to learn skills to achieve this, the problem then could be one of fear or lack of assertion, so you may choose a timid mouse, afraid of the dark, who through observing what others do learns to sleep comfortably (Story 69), or a boy, afraid of snorkeling, who discovers he can swim safely with the world's biggest shark (Story 30), or a ghost who cannot scare but learns how to do so (Story 91). In the character you need a figure that can represent the problem, has the ability to build on existing resources (or develop new ones), and can reach the desired outcome. Given these three basic requirements, you have considerable choice. You may choose from the following possibilities:

■ An animal, as in Story 8, about a mule making the most of what it is given; Story 19, about a giraffe learning to accept itself; or Story 75, about a bird solving a problem;

■ A child, like a boy reminding his father he is only nine years old in Story 84, a girl negotiating a solution in Story 35, or a teenager facing a moral dilemma in Story 62;

■ An imaginative character, such as Captain Empowerment of Story 64, or others like Wally the Wacky Wizard or the grumpy genie that we have discussed previously;

■ A sports or hero figure, as described in the section "Metaphors Built on Heroes" in Chapter 15; or

■ An archetypal character, like the jester in the struggle between a king and queen that results in their learning to share (Story 77), the spaceship captain who teaches empowerment

(Story 64), or the imaginative African explorer learning to weigh up the possibilities and make a decision (Story 67).

In addition to the character's needing to be capable of communicating the three therapeutic characteristics of the story, it needs to be a figure with which the child can identify. Here it helps to have learned about some of the interests, hobbies, or sports of the child. Does he have a pet, or relate well with animals? Is she a social or gregarious young person who may enjoy a tale about other children? Does he read science fiction or fantasy, or play computer games from which you might build a character of imagination? Has she an interest in sports, pop music, or movies stars on which you could develop a story about a hero figure? Is he or she likely to relate to a character that is a match in age, gender, and personal characteristics, or to an archetypal figure such as mentioned previously?

While the character is not the essence of the healing story, it is an important vehicle for communicating the story in a way that involves the child in the process and outcome. Hence, the character can change to best suit and engage the listener. Though the therapeutic characteristics of Stories 31 and 32 ("Caught in the Middle") are almost identical, the character in the version for children is a doll and the one for adolescents is a teenage girl. The character could just as easily be a space toy, a precious teddy bear, a work ofvaluable art, or a teenage boy. The story idea on which I built "Seeking Happiness" (Story 10) had a king as its main character. He became a troubled tycoon—more modern and audience relevant—in the version that appears in Standing without Shoes (Burns & Street, 2003), while in the story told here in Chapter 4 the character is a princess.

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