Sunday, September 10, 2006

Character change...growth...arc...ACK!

I enjoy spending time with other writers not just because I find their conversations witty and enjoyable, but also because the discussions often lead to clarification within my own mind about what I do and why I do it.

Yesterday, one such discussion came around to the subject of "character growth," and specifically, that your characters have to have some. This is also referred to "character change" or a "character arc."

Well, I'm gonna make a confession here. Terms like "character growth" and "arc" give me the heebie-jeebies. I've felt this for a long time, so last night, I laid awake and contemplated why those terms make me squirm.

I came up with a few reasons.

Number One: they make writing sound like a homework assignment to me. Grunt work. No fun. And if nothing else, I think writing stories to entertain should be enjoyable, for me as well as my readers. Or else, ugh. There are easier ways to make a living, with a more stable, reliable paycheck.

Number Two, which relates to Number One: it makes writing sound really, really complicated. Now, I'm not saying writing is easy. Believe you me, I know it's not. But it isn't some complex rocket science, either. It's story-telling, neither more nor less.

Number Three: I think it implies that at the start of the story, the characters are, well, really stunted or have a LOT wrong with them. Think Ebenezer Scrooge before the ghosts.

Here's how I prefer to think of my stories and the characters: the hero and heroine aren't perfect, but they think they're perfectly fine at the start of the book, thank you very much. However, they are, like all of us, vulnerable and insecure, for various reasons.

I tend to think of one character as fully armored, feet planted, arms folded. "I'm perfectly fine and very tough. Nothing you do can hurt me!" This is most often the hero, but as with the book I'm writing right now, not always. I would say this describes the heroine of THE NOTORIOUS KNIGHT more.

The other character is more actively on the defensive, dancing around holding a shield and sword. "Think you can hurt me, huh? Think again! Hahahaaa!"

As the story progresses, though, and the hero and heroine get to know one another, the armor and weapons begin to disappear. They learn to trust each other, to feel secure with them, to fall in love. Then, and only then, does each reveal that vulnerability, that insecurity, that they've tried so hard to hide and/or ignore. Then, and only then, do they feel secure enough to risk that revelation.

Okay, you're thinking. Based on what I've said, my characters change. And you're right. But the effect of falling in love isn't some kind of Ebenezer Scrooge transformation into a different person, or going from some stunted creature into a fully formed person. It's that they feel loved enough and secure enough to reveal themselves as they always have been. Love liberates them, enables them to take off the armor and put down their weapons, and show their beloved exactly who they are, insecurities and all. They are, finally, fully, themselves.

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