Thinking HARDER about characters

After writing last night’s post, I felt pretty good about the place I thought I’d gotten to. However, when I woke up and checked my Facebook, I noticed a nice little bit of feedback on my post. It pointed out that my conclusion about what change my character will undergo, is not a change. It’s an accomplishment. The offending bit from last night’s post reads:

It’s just a matter of understanding what the change ought to be. The main character starts out the book avoiding his innate magical skill. By the end, he has managed to learn how to harness some of the most powerful aspects of this magic. It’s pretty straight forward.

As an aspiring writer who did not spend a lot of time taking literature classes in college, I can’t tell you how hard it is to differentiate between “The change, growth, development for the character comes with the mastering of some internal turmoil, deep rooted assumptions, or personal landscape*” and some sort of personal achievement. These are very related things. Personal accomplishment, I think, is part and parcel of the broader character change.

So, the real question to answer is: How do the character’s motivations change over time? Then on to the question, How does this effect his personality? An accomplishment, on it’s face, isn’t likely to affect a change in the character’s motivation or personality. Although, it certainly could. To go back to Dune as an example, Paul Atreides becomes the kwisats haderach. There is accomplishment here, but the more important thing to note is that Paul becomes a different character. He reacts to things differently, thinks about things differently and sees them differently.

Another example, this one from the world of YouTube, (and if you’re a big enough nerd you should totally go and check this out), is a comedy web-series, now concluded, called the Guild. At the beginning of the series the main character is a total wreck. Uncertain, addicted to gaming, and her life is falling apart. By the end of the series, she has gotten control of all of this. She is sure of herself, has a steady job, and turns off the game (drops the addiction). From the perspective of a writer who is still developing skills, it could be easy to mistake this real change for accomplishment, thus applying the approach incorrectly to my own character development.

With all that rambling out of the way, what do I do now? As it turns out, I think I can still use the magic angle as the underlying impetus for the change. I’m not totally sure where the change will land him. I think I do actually need to finish drafting the work first before any decisions can be made. It’s going to be something more along the lines of coming to understand and accepting his new found role in the world and going on to embrace what it means. It’s going to take a lot of work and revision to get there and I will very likely be changing my mind on some of this once I get moving on it.

* This is a quote from the feedback I got.


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