Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Growth In Fiction, Not Fictional Growth

How do I authentically flesh out a human being on paper and take him on a compelling, transformational personal journey when I've only begun my own? Through towering snow-covered peaks, verdant multi-colored forests and deep jagged caves where I've never been? Beset by trials and tribulations I've never experienced?

I endow him with my own shortcomings and fears, put him up against pains I do know very well, send him to all the places I wanted to go but didn't, and let him show me what I've been missing.

Creating characters is like digging for treasure, opening the bejeweled chest buried six feet under and finding it holds a doorway to a secret mine of wonders right next to a sewer. The deeper you delve, the stench gets a little stronger, but it makes your painstaking discovery of beauty beneath the dirt that much more rewarding.

And sometimes, the progress these characters make in their lives becomes stitches and gauze for open wounds in our own.

My protagonist, Morlen, is a son, helping three different fathers along his quest. and each of the story's three central parts is built around his relationship with one of them: The Father Who Hides, The Father Who Weeps, and The Father Who Waits. By acquiring a certain understanding of them, helping them fight their respective battles, he's better-equipped to face down his own demons and forge a path for himself.

Now, I'm sure that when I do get published, every review is going to open with some snarky variation of: "All right, let's just get this out in the open first thing--this guy has some major dad issues."

But that's exactly what I needed to write about: something real, that never completely goes away.

And growth manifests itself like outcroppings carved by time through soil: when characters you introduced as trembling with indecision let firm conviction permeate even one line of speech; when they stride over holes that would've easily sunk them chapters before, bringing others with them; and when you no longer find yourself having to think out the magnitude of what they're going to gain, and see that when it naturally comes, it dwarfs anything you could've prepared beforehand.

What about you writers out there? What were some favorite ways your characters' evolution brought out your own?

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Character development ranks up there, in my mind, with dialogue in terms of difficulty. Like dialogue, you want a character's growth to be believable (i.e. he/she can hardly swing a sword at the beginning of chapter one, yet by the end she/he is cutting down professional swordsmen with ease). I think one of the best ways to develop characters is to give them one or more flaws. It makes the reader (we've all got flaws) relate more easily to the character. As the story progresses, and the character overcomes or learns to live with their flaw, it strikes an important chord with the reader. I think it's also important to explain where the flaw came from. In my current project, the protagonist is a workaholic and I eventually reveal that he's coping (poorly) with grief.