Growing a Character? Add water, sunlight, & the nearest sugary confection

Link from Legend of Zelda

Link from Legend of Zelda

I have to be honest about this post.  I’m not sure what I originally meant by ‘Growing a Character’ when I saw it on the list of topics.  Somebody probably suggested it and I thought the note would be enough.  Oops.  Yet I like a challenge and I have a vague idea of what I’m going to talk about.

Earlier this month, I wrote about married heroes and mentioned Spider-Man going from high school dweeb to adult hero with a wife.  Well, I couldn’t find a picture for that, so I went for Link . . . what?  Anyway, these two characters can be seen as examples of growth.

  • Spider-Man goes through phases of life that all of us can face.  Growing up, dating, graduating from high school, getting a job, paying bills, marriage, deal with Satan to undo that marriage, body taken over by Doctor Octopus, wondering why your ancient Aunt May has returned from the dead more times than Jean Grey . . . where was I going with this?  Ah, yes.  Ridiculousness of comic stories aside, the character grows up and readers follow along as they grow up.  If one is already adult then they can see something in the hero’s past to connect to.
  • Link is reborn in nearly every one of his video games.  It’s a hero cycle where evil is coming, a hero appears, evil strikes, the hero gains the ability to stop evil, and then stops evil.  This isn’t a story about ongoing character growth, but you can see the hero evolution go from beginning to end in one story.  There’s no back issues or older games to search for to get the whole picture.  Unlike Spider-Man, Link is simple and compact every time he appears.

Now these are from comics and video games, which are totally different from books.  A series allows for a long investment into character evolution.  Take Luke Callindor in Legends of Windemere and welcome to any new readers who didn’t see this one coming.  He is very immature and untested at the beginning. More so than the other champions and characters since they’ve veterans in some way.  Luke is very green and you get to see him go from dreaming of being a hero to starting his adventure and then into actually filling the role.  There’s a ‘coming of age’ aspect to his story, which is why he has a lot more personal life bumps and tragedies than the others.  One could even say his friends have paid their dues early on like Sari being introduced with the murder of her clan and Nyx losing her family before the series begins.  Delvin and Timoran are veteran warriors too, so they’ve lost friends.  For all of his courage and skills, Legends of Windemere is where Luke Callindor earns his hero scars and losses.  This is growth for him and the reader gets to see it from beginning to end.

I guess going with any character from beginning to end is how I define growth.  There’s evolution in their abilities and mindset.  You shouldn’t see the same character that was there at the beginning.  At least not entirely since there has to be something remaining from the original even if it’s a spark.  Again, this is easier in a lengthy series, but you can do it in a standalone too.  An adventure is an adventure, so it’s all about your focus and timeline.

What do you think about character growth and what do you do to achieve it?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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30 Responses to Growing a Character? Add water, sunlight, & the nearest sugary confection

  1. zombiephreak says:

    Aunt May does seem to have a problem just staying dead. But she’s so sweet and kind, I don’t mind that she sticks around 🙂

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  2. Wonderful post today. Characters grow as a result of circumstances. They face their greatest fears, they evolve. As to your question, I dug a hole for Patty Hall to work her way out of. I put her in corrective leg braces, and gave her a family tragedy in her background. It made her journey even better.

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  3. I haven’t been around for a few weeks, so I guess I’ve missed a lot. But I enjoyed the post and in response to your question, I think, at times, a character’s growth is one of the reasons authors become addicted to a series. I absolutely love the natural evolution a character takes and to share that with readers is a joy. To any writer their characters are very real and, like any living, breathing individual, they develop based on experience and personal circumstance. I guess Spidey had a few things thrown at him which tested the scale, but because of the extremes we saw how his reactions matured and he sure can roll with the punches!

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    • Natural is actually the best word to use. It has to feel like that or it could topple the entire story. One of the difficulties with comic books or extremely long series is that you can have a different author step in. This changes direction and the character can act very differently. So what the new writer can see as natural might not be to the readers.

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  4. I’m a big believer in character growth in story-telling. Indeed, to me it’s the most interesting aspect of it. So, I’m with Spidey on this one 🙂

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    • Honestly, I’m with both of them. Spidey is great, but he eventually hits a barrier and that seems to be where things fall apart. I guess the benefit Link has over Spidey is that there’s an ending to his adventures. On the other hand, Link can’t go through as many stages of evolution. Though he did okay in the old cartoon.

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  5. L. Marie says:

    Great thoughts, Charles. And it’s interesting to see how you’ve achieved the characters’ growth in book after book. The hard part for a stand-alone book author is to show the growth by the end of the story. I start with the main character’s wound–what makes him or her doubtful about himself/herself. By the end of the book, I hope to show that character at a place of acceptance and change. Sometimes this means the character stops comparing himself/herself unfavorably with others. Since my protagonists are usually kids, I don’t have a huge character arc for them unlike with Harry Potter, where we spent seven years with him.

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    • For a shorter work, you might have to go the Link approach. Compact and only one side of the character’s life gets the evolution. With such limited space and time, you can’t go for their personal and protagonist lives (as long as those are separate) with a lot of ups and downs. Many times you can get a single down near the end and then a rise back to the top. Kind of like how most movies do it.

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  6. C.E.Robinson says:

    Charles, great post. Yes, characters need to change from beginning to end in a story. Your post gave me the idea to embellish even more the beginning of a main character in my fiction book! It’s really my life story in the third person narrative. Thanks! Chryssa

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  7. I love to read stories where the characters grow. I think Luke has evolved a lot since Beginning of a Hero.

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  8. Helen Jones says:

    I find that character growth often comes organically, especially when I’m really in the flow of the story – things happen, and their reaction is part of that growth. My current series main character is fifteen at the start, and the story cycle takes a couple of years, so growth is inevitable anyway as it is a time of change in most people’s lives – however, I use the events of the story to explore that change. Whereas another book I’m writing, the character doesn’t age at all, so her growth is emotional. I think you have to have an idea of how to explore growth, but it can’t be forced. Does that make sense? 🙂

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    • Makes sense to me. I tend to have a basic idea of what I’m doing in terms of growth. I plot events and a vague destination. Beyond that it’s all about seeing what happens when I actually write the story. Is that similar to what you’re talking about?

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      • Helen Jones says:

        Yes, that’s it – and often it’s only when I look back that I see how the character has evolved, as it’s something that happens as I’m writing, rather than something planned. But I am a Pantser after all 🙂

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  9. In relation to series, I think this is a real balancing act. We do want the characters to grow and develop new powers or skills that are relevant to events in the stories. Yet we don’t want the personality to change from story to story. I kind of noticed this with Star Trek Next Generation, where the characters would go through emotional experiences in each episode, yet the next episode their personality is exactly what it was before. Of course, TV is different than novels in that episodes appear weekly and books maybe one or two a year.

    On the other hand, I definitely don’t like it when a character in a long series picks up and keeps so many powers that they become godlike. Readers need to worry about the character, and it’s hard to worry about a character like that.

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    • TV is a strange one. Some changes would stick while others wouldn’t. It always felt like the relationships would change more than the personalities. As far as TNG goes, I remember Data and Picard evolving more than the others. Worf may have softened a bit.

      As far as god-like powers in a long series, I agree. The only time that would work is if the threats and villains grow to the same level. That way it’s still an even match.

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  10. In my own series, “The Star-Runner Chronicles,” the one of the overarching themes is actually about personal growth. For instance, Wolfsbane (the protagonist) starts out very frightened, under-confident, and just plain unsure of himself at the beginning of the first book. However, as he gains the courage to break away from the life that his father had planned out for him and follow his own heart, he slowly begins to come out of his shell and rediscover his true self. His inner growth is juxtaposed with his quest to master his shapeshifting abilities, giving a sort of external mirror to what’s going on inside of him. As of “Wolfie Star-Runner Plays with Hellfire,” he’s still got a ways to go, but if you read both books you can see how much he’s already matured and how he’s gone from fearful and hesitant to eager…and, at times, maybe a little too enthusiastic.

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    • Seems very natural too. A lot of people start off unsure and frightened. So most can relate to and be inspired by a character who begins in such a state then grows to one of confidence. Same thing seems to go for characters who are immature, but I’ve noticed people have less patience for those. Like how you made him a little too enthusiastic. Rarely does a person get such an emotion right on the first or even third try.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Ali Isaac says:

    Well ever more difficult situations to deal with, I suspect. Finding themselves with little or no choice, shouldering responsibility. Making mistakes and learning from them is a good one, gets the reader identifying with them and rooting for them. Tragedy does that too.

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