Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Lazette Gifford, the site coordinator at Forward Motion for Writers, talks about how one of the key components to writing a novel is character evolution, the changes the character goes through as a result of situations they face. She points out how as the author, we usually know our characters inside and out like they are our own children and we see their evolution in our minds, but do we always show these changes to the reader?
If your character has lived through some life-altering event but doesn’t seem affected or changed by its impact, the reader is going to be jolted out of the story with thoughts of “as if!”. Luckily, how the character reacts is up to us. No two people are alike, and our characters can have many different reactions to the same situation.
If our characters continually respond the same way to the same problem every time, we may not have considered the vast array of potential reactions, and quite possibly will have created predictable, cardboard characters. We don’t want our readers to know exactly what is going to happen next! (Unless of course, we set up this expectation to throw in a little twist, but this needs to be done properly).
Consider how different people react to the same situation; the more dramatic the scenario, the wider the range of responses. Let’s imagine three women, happily married, with 2.5 kids and a house in the ‘burbs, when one day a fire wipes out the entire community, destroying their homes and killing their families. Let’s consider the possible reactions for each of the women:
-joins a religious group in a search for meaning
-becomes a drug addict/alcoholic
-decides to try to help others become better prepared for fire
-attempts to re-create the family she’s lost
-pretends nothing has happened/lives in state of denial
-goes home to parents in an effort to return to simpler stage of life
-creates a ritual and monument for the lost family
-helps other families who have lost their homes
The possible scenarios are endless that could come from within each of these choices. Does the woman move home with mom and dad, marry her high school sweetheart and become terrified about leaving him home alone? Would her fear eat away at their relationship, causing conflict and eventually lead to the complete erosion of their marriage?
What were the women doing during the fire? Was one in a seedy hotel with her secret lover? Did one just have a fight with her husband over the dishes? Did one forget to tell her children she loved them the last time she saw them?
Each situation gives our characters choices about how they would react. We need to consider what our characters are thinking and why they would react in one way and not another. To make our characters truly come to life for our readers we need to show how they have learned and changed along the way. Because this is the bottom line - if we want readers to come back we need to show them the inner process for the outer reaction. Have you shown this to your readers?