Today I have a guest post from C.S. Boyack. Enjoy!
Character growth is something all authors struggle with. I’m not an expert, but I have some seasoning. There are many ways to weave character growth into a story, but I’m going to limit this to what I know. Maybe we can have some good discussions in the comments.
All of my novels are stand alone stories. I don’t have the length of a series to get to the point. The goal is to give the reader a powerful emotional experience through the character’s growth. In a stand alone story this could be an emotional roller coaster.
Keep in mind that emotions aren’t limited to tears and heartbreak. If that’s your thing, go for it. You could be writing about humor, fear, patience, or other emotions.
I’m a believer in showing the character in his/her natural habitat. Modern writing demands this section be short if it exists at all. This is where we meet the character for the first time. Choosing the character can influence the emotional experience.
To illustrate, I’ll make up a problem. Someone has to rid the village of a man eating ogre named Stinkhorn. Fair problem. You could probably write a pretty good story by sending a runner after Sir Meatpuppet. What if you called upon a nine year old – girl – with a runny nose. She has a soup ladle, but it’s a heavy cast iron soup ladle. Let’s call her Lilly.
When you introduce Stinkhorn, he’s massive and brutal. Maybe he’s surrounded by bones, so many bones. Have him tearing down whole trees with his bare hands just to roast his next victim. We’ve just defined the gap between antagonist and protagonist.
Lilly isn’t just an underdog, she’s a virtual redshirt. You get an automatic emotional tug. She certainly is brave, but that ladle isn’t going to do much more than chip old Stinkhorn’s toenail. — I agree, we should get her a really pretty tombstone.
This story has some promise, but whatever Lilly has in mind has to fail. Maybe she drove off some mean kids with the ladle once before and just knows it’s going to work against Stinkhorn. It doesn’t work, and maybe old Stinkhorn takes the ladle as a butt scratcher.
Now we’re at the moment of character growth. Lilly has to make a new plan and step outside her comfort zone. The minute a character steps into unfamiliar territory, you have the makings of a hero.
Maybe Lilly absolutely hates her grandfather’s sauerkraut, and has sworn to let the tradition die with him. She will never make sauerkraut as long as she lives. As it turns out, sauerkraut will kill ogres on contact. Lilly must back down from a vow she swore publicly or fail. The villagers will ridicule her if she breaks her vow. Maybe vow breaking is a serious crime in Lilly’s village.
This is another growth point for Lilly. Gramps is out of town. She should really sweat this decision. Maybe she tries making kraut in secret somewhere. Maybe she gags and spills it on accident. Maybe it stains her only dress. This would be a good time to give up, and she ought to consider it.
The ogre steals away with one of the mean kids. This doesn’t offend Lilly, the other kid was mean. She has another moral dilemma. It isn’t right to let Stinkhorn eat the little brat. Still, he is a brat, and she really hates sauerkraut. The harder this decision is, the bigger the payoff at the end.
Ultimately, Lilly breaks her vow, faces her loathing of all things sauerkraut, and saves the day. She retrieves her beloved soup ladle, the mean kids want to be her friends, and sauerkraut cures snotty noses. (Who knew.)
What we just did was take a sacrificial lamb, forced her to change her beliefs, take an uncomfortable action, and become a hero. This is character growth.
Craig writes Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Paranormal novels as C. S. Boyack. His most recent story is a Dwarven fantasy set in a Greco-Roman era. It’s called The Cock of the South. You can find it, along with his other works at: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00ILXBXUY
You can follow his blog, Entertaining Stories at: https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com
Craig is also on Goodreads and Twitter: