Expansion Pack: The Crucible

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.

39 thoughts on “Expansion Pack: The Crucible

  1. My character in my WIP loses everything several times. Each time sends him further into darkness. I’m glad you wrote about this today. You helped me flush out a part of the story that I’ve been struggling with. Thanks! 🙂

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  2. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    A most excellent post on Story Empire today from C. S. Boyack, regarding putting your characters “in the crucible” to give them challenges that will “remake” them and change the direction of their lives dramatically. Check it out, and then, if you would, pass it along so others can think about this, too. Thanks, and thanks to Craig for giving me some serious food for thought. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent post, Craig. And I have to confess, as a new writer who’s never taken a class, I rely more on instinct than anything else. I think sometimes I probably do what you’ve described, only without knowing I’m doing it. (I think we call that unintentionally blundering in the right direction.) But now that you’ve laid it out for me, I will definitely be thinking it through a bit more with my next book. I suspect it will be very helpful to me, since at the present time, I have no idea what it’s going to be about, just that it will be the 4th in a series, but focused on someone other than the first three did. So I have lots of room to explore.

    Thanks for making me think. (I’ll get you for that, just you wait. 😀 ) Off to share this on TWS. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was super, Craig. You did a great job of articulating, giving examples and lining up the important aspects in a short and concise post. Character development is my favorite part of writing novels, and I appreciate this insight. Cheers to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What I learned in writing classes is to take a character to the breaking point, then let him deal with it in whatever way he chooses. I know it sounds crazy to let the character choose his/her poison, but each character will handle a situation in a different way – just like us in real life. Which way the character goes, ‘evolving or devolving’ depends on their choices. This is a great post to get us thinking about those choices! Thanks for sharing, Craig.

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  6. I try to really get to know my characters before I start writing about them, but I’ve never actively tried to destroy their paradigms. It never crossed my mind, but I can see how that would work really well. Since I write series without overall story arcs, I just try to make my characters grow. If I can pull that off, I’m happy.

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    • As I delve deeper into series work, I understand what you’re saying. In the debut books, I broke Lizzie’s paradigm and James’s. After that it isn’t so simple. Lizzie can have some new characters with broken paradigms that she has to help.

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  7. I think a lot about character when I develop plot. The two go hand in hand to create conflict. And you get a lot more conflict taking someone into unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. Great examples, Craig.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Nicely said. A lot of people do seem to avoid or dislike it when a character is challenged. Falling down is considered too negative and mean by some, but that’s usually where the most growth comes from. I am a little confused on what you mean by ‘evolution’ and ‘devolution’ though. I always that the going backwards was still part of character evolution because that’s the catalyst for adaptation.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Great post, Craig. Your example puts me in mind of the TV series Better Call Saul … he went from trying to do good to helping the bad guys, and you still love him for it. I think character devolution is an excellent idea for story development 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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