Monday, August 27, 2012

Character Growth

We all know characters need to grow in novels. The Susan Meier definition of plot even says...Plot is all the steps it takes a character to get from who he or she is at the beginning of the book (the terrible trouble, inciting incident, day/moment everything changed) to who he or she is at the satisfying conclusion.

Nothing wrong with that. It also doesn't seem too complicated. We all know characters must grow.

But do you really understand what character growth is and how some of the craziest things can mess up your character?

A character ISN'T growing if, every time he steps away from the heroine rather than kiss her, he uses the same excuse in his head.


"But he wouldn't kiss her because his divorce had soured him on love." Next near miss, "He stepped away, tempted, but so soured on love he knew he'd never have another serious relationship." Next near miss, "Thoughts of his crappy divorce simmered in his gut. Much as he'd love to kiss her, his divorce still rankled."

They all work. They all make sense. They all provide motivation for the character's behavior. But we don't see any character growth.

So...If his divorce really is the genesis of his internal conflict...and he really shouldn't be kissing do we handle it?  Can we change these three lines which will pop up in three different places in such a way that they show growth?


I'm not going to show you how, but I'll give you some clues.

First, character growth isn't an increase in height (or weight). Second, people (themselves) really don't change. Their beliefs do.

So as you are writing about a hero who is having trouble getting involved with the heroine, HE isn't changing. His beliefs about his divorce, himself, what he wants out of life...and maybe even the heroine herself ... are evolving.

So he might not kiss her in the first encounter by simply reminding himself that since his divorce he's decided not to get involved ever again.

In almost kiss two, he'd be more tempted..maybe because she's changing his opinion of women. But the very fact that his opinion is changing would scare him...cause him to step back to examine that opinion before he did something he might regret. Hence, no kiss. But lots of demonstration that his beliefs are changing and he is evolving.

In almost kiss three, he'd have examined the fact that his opinion of women is changing so he wouldn't think of that...BUT...he might think about HER, the heroine, how a kiss might affect her. Which would demonstrate real growth for him. Because now he's not just selfishly thinking of his own broken heart, or how HE feels about women, he's considering the impact of a kiss on her.

So even though we start off with a guy who won't kiss the heroine because he's bitter about his divorce, he evolves into a guy whose feelings are changing, as his beliefs are changing. He's growing. We aren't rehashing the same stuff and readers won't feel they're back on page one!

Happy Monday

susan meier


mj compton said...

TV Stevie & I watched a movie last night. When he asked me how I liked it, I replied that I hated it. He asked why. "Because the character didn't grow. Didn't change." He didn't think that was a legitimate reason to dislike a movie. He's wrong. :-)

Susan said...

I'm with you, Molly! I like to see characters impact each other. I also think if a movie premise is strong enough for somebody to write a whole movie about it, the involved problem should change the characters!