Thursday, June 2, 2011

Character Dynamics

Lately I’ve been reading a lot more than normal, mainly because my head’s so congested I can’t form coherent sentences for my WIP. I came across a few blogs talking about various aspects of character, so I thought I’d add my .02 cents, mainly pertaining to character dynamics and adversity. 

Writers know that characters need to be dynamic—nobody wants to read about a cardboard cut-out. Characters need to grow, change, etc. Bottom line is, if the character is exactly the same at the first and end of the book, the writer hasn’t done a very good job. People change continuously throughout their lives. Characters should be no different.

One way to catalyze character growth is by facing adversity. We all know someone who was a mean jackass until he/she interned at a Monarch butterfly farm and became the most wonderful person ever afterwards. Because internships at Monarch butterfly farms are really life changing. For the greater good.


But we’ve all heard the saying that adversity builds character and changes people. It’s hung around for so long because it’s true. Soldiers come home from war and never pick up a weapon again. A college student dies after being hit by a drunk driver—his/her mother then becomes a public speaker, educating people on the consequences of too much booze. A child who was abused ends up abusing their own children, eventually becoming the adult he or she swore to never be.

Adversity changes us, sometimes for the better, other times for the worse. But the point is, you have to change to grow. And often you have to experience adversity to change.

In the current ms I’m working on, the main character is a paramedic. She’s a passive healer, not a fighter, but she gets thrown into a world where she’s literally fighting for her life on a near-constant basis. She’s constantly forced into situations where she decides the outcome—roll over and die or fight. Change or suffer. Kill or be killed. Obviously it goes against her beliefs, but she changes to survive.

I once read that it’s not enough to put your MCs in a tall tree and write them climbing down. Around the tree you need to dig a moat and fill it with toxic water and wicked alligators. Then throw rocks at your MC. Maybe let some killer bees loose. Make it difficult—mucho difficult. Throughout all this adversity, the MC who finally braves the bees, stones, and the gator moat shouldn’t be the same as he/she was when stuck at the top of the tree. Those are the kinds of characters readers like to read about. 

So. Go throw rocks at your characters. Torture them. Make them HAVE to change. Stasis is bad. Make them grow.

Got those rocks yet?

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