How I Write: Characters, Part 3
People change over time. They do. Whether they want to or not. Things happen in our life that cause us to look inward and re-evaluate our motives, our passions, they force us to see our own weaknesses or develop our strengths. Circumstances shape us, sometimes even define us.
The point is, no one stays the same. We are constantly changing, evolving. We are works in progress.
And nothing accelerates change like a traumatic event or life-altering ordeal.
Case in point. Four years ago I battled colon cancer. I can assure you I am not the same person today as I was when it began. It was quite the journey and challenged me on many different levels. All of this caused CHANGE. And I think change for the better. For me, cancer was a blessing in disguise.
In fiction, our characters should be no different. They should face a traumatic or life-altering event and they should CHANGE. Some call it a character arc, I call it reality.
If you want your characters to come off as real people (which you do, yes, you do) then you must give them flaws, give them an ordeal to face that shines the spotlight on those flaws, then give them a means and a will to not only face those flaws but to conquer them and come out changed people on the other side.
Here’s a quick example from my upcoming novel, A Thousand Sleepless Nights, published under my pseudonym, Michael King (releasing October 16). When Nena Hutching was a young mother she was so absorbed in the family horse farm that she totally neglected her kids. Now they’re grown and want nothing to do with her. She doesn’t blame them but neither does she seek to do anything about it. She figures they’re too busy for her. Then she gets cancer. This incident causes her to do some real soul-searching, some reminiscing, some accounting. Over time she realizes what a lousy mother she was and regrets her neglect. When death is just around the corner she wants to see her kids, make amends. Will they come home? Can reconciliation happen? Well, you’ll just have to read the story to find out but I promise you, Nena changes. Everyone changes.
Here’s the bottom line, stories are based on CONFLICT. No conflict, no story. And conflict (internal, external, or preferably both) needs to cause CHANGE, an evolving of the character. Move him or her from point A to point B (or C or D or whatever, but MOVE them).
What was an incident in your life that changed you? For better or worse?
Posted on August 30, 2012, in Writing Life and tagged A Thousand Sleepless Nights, Character arc, Colon cancer, Fiction, Michael King, plot, Psychological trauma, Story arc. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.