Thursday, May 28, 2015

How Well Do Your Characters Grow?

When I’m lucky, my characters will grow (I’m not referring here to height or weight, that’s another matter!) over the course of the story. Events will change them. People they meet along the way will have an impact. Very rarely will they be the same by the end. At least that’s what happens to me in the novels or novellas I write. Maybe that is why I prefer the longer formats to the short story.

I’m currently working on turning what I thought was a stand-alone novel, The Queen’s Pawn, into a trilogy. During the first book the youthful hero is a bit of a fish-out-of-water. He is a bumbler desperately trying to survive. Almost everyone else in the story is two steps ahead, but he gets by through luck and his basic good character. He shows signs of maturity by the end of the tale. His young lady counterpoint starts out as annoying and rude but eventually shows some reason for her behavior. Their relationship develops.

When I started the second volume I knew I was dealing with characters who are now somewhat different people than they were in the first book. Their experiences have changed them. They are more mature. I can still have fun with serious misunderstandings between them. (He doesn’t realize whose wedding she is talking about!) Again, the characters can continue to develop but should still show traces of the original pair I met earlier. They are more mature, well, most of the time.

By the time I came to starting the third, and probably final book, I knew I was writing about two characters who are somewhat different from the pair in volume one. The whole three-part tale takes place over a couple of years, so the changes must be shown as reasonably gradual. No great leaps forward, just based upon what I first discovered about them in the beginning. He is clever enough, but lacking experience with the surroundings he finds himself in. She is passionate and moving through that frightening stage from girl to woman. They give me as the writer a lot of scope with which to hang myself if I make serious mistakes.

Most of the above I found almost by accident. I didn’t set out to write the story that way, but it made sense. Your people change. If they do not, you have a danger of writing about cardboard characters. They make mistakes, they mess up, and they hopefully learn something and grow or adapt. You might even find them arguing with you if you want to write about them in a manner that doesn’t make sense. They will shout at you from the page that they really wouldn’t act that way!

If the characters don’t evolve over the course of the story, the question you should ask yourself is why? Is there a good reason? Has nothing in the tale impacted them? Odds are, they should be affected by their environment, for better or worse, by the time they reach the end, or you the author, should know why.


The Dark Lady Trilogy
The Queen’s Pawn
The Housetrap Chronicles
Alex in Wanderland,






January Bain said...

My characters better darn well argue with me if I get it wrong, Ron! Hugs, January

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Part of the plot is really how they grow and learn -- or don't in the case of a stubborn antagonist.