I’m off to Africa and Europe, and of all the adventures I’ve nose-dived into, this one by far made me the most anxious pretrip. I couldn’t quite peg why it put me on edge, but I couldn’t shake this feeling that the trip had an undertow of finality to it: there was no going back and I was embarking on this road that was going to change me in some permanent way. Personally, the scary part to change is the unknown element to it. The parts of my life that become different in ways I didn’t expect. When I put myself in different cultures, placing myself on the path of exploration, I can’t help but evolve into a different person, as I find out more about myself.
As in life, change is so important to characters in a story. It is the biggest thing I like to see after conflict. That’s what characters are really, these people put in conflicts where a writer shows how it’s affected them—how they’ve changed. We go on a journey with our friends while we turn each page, rooting for our favorite characters. By the end of the story, hopefully you’re turning the last page to an ending that has left some sort of mark on you.
Creating those 3-dimensional characters that will resonate with readers is tough. As a discovery writer, I don’t have a prewritten outline of my characters. But after writing about my characters for a couple of chapters, I start to see a baseline character concept emerge. To create an overarching theme for the character arc, I take that concept and see what kind of person they need to be by the end. As I write, I keep that theme in mind and things will fall into place eventually. If you’re more of an outliner, then you can establish the character beforehand and flesh out how their change occurs. Write out which conflicts, setting, and other plot devices need to occur for this transformation to happen. Here are some character concepts and changes I’ve enjoyed reading or watching:
- Someone who has nothing to lose and then gains something that instills fear in him or her if they lose it.
- A person with a chameleon soul—no static personality. They are someone who drastically changes based on the people around. Eventually something carves them out into their own distinct person.
- An antagonist’s lapdog who turns into someone with a moral compass at the end and does the right thing.
- People who smile the most that carry the most pain. They come from sordid pasts and you can deconstruct them over the course of the story and have them transform into someone who has come to terms with it.
Use change to get the sticky goop of depth in a character. The last thing anyone wants to do is read a story and punch through cardboard character concepts.
[Featured photo credit: Felix Burton]