Hi gang, Craig with you again. Most of my posts seem to be about characters, so why should today be any different? Today, I’m going to share a little tip to help your main character get that all-important character arc.
Every person out there has an idea of who they are. There are things they take pride in, enjoy, that motivate them. There are also things they hate, loathe, and demotivate them. I’ll refer to this as the character paradigm. It’s the whole of who that person is.
Our job as authors is to put those characters in the crucible to make sure they have a way to change over the course of the story. One way to do this is to destroy the character paradigm.
I don’t consider this plotting, pantsing, or something in between. All of us do some kind of character development. Maybe you use Character Sheets, like Staci taught us about. Maybe you have some other kind of note keeping system, but you certainly have one. Who is your character, and how are we going to challenge them?
Here are some simple examples:
• A homebody – Include necessary travel in the story. Make it difficult.
• Workaholic – Take all that away. Could be a merger, quarantine, sequestered jury duty, almost anything.
• Family oriented – make it tough, but you have to take this away, or at least put it at risk. Things like murder, being drafted, traded to a new team on the opposite coast.
I’ve seen some refer to this as character evolution, but I don’t buy it. That’s one part of what happens. Character devolution can be just as satisfying in a story.
Think about a young workaholic. He’s motivated by the solid future his career holds. Long nights in the college library, followed by legal internships to land a job, only to find out the good life is still out of his reach. Those clients he’s even allowed to work with are unappreciative, rarely pay their bills, and his chances of a partnership in the next few years are grim.
He’s going to struggle with his respect for the law, his work ethic, all those things he’s put off for ten to fifteen years. When this character devolves to become the attorney for the local organized crime syndicate it could make for a decent story.
The point of the attorney example is we have to take away everything he holds dear. Helping masses of people defend themselves from injustice, becomes helping one client avoid justice. He changes, even in a negative way, based on what life threw in his path.
Maybe I can put it this way: a normal person going on with their normal life doesn’t make for much of a story. This includes what authors consider the exciting jobs, cops, criminals, archaeologists, doctors. A good story needs to break their paradigm in some fashion. Hauling in the Friday night drunks, or sweeping dust from an artifact might be interesting for a chapter, but it won’t carry twenty of them.
How about it, gang? Do you consider the character paradigm when designing your characters? Are you willing to give it a try? Whether you plot or pants, I think this trick is worth a little advance time for your tales.