Pondering Character in Fiction

Readers crave fictional characters who grow and change as they drive the story forward.  A character in the process of internal transformation offers another plot to unfold within the story world, possibly the most important engine of all. Without character transformation, stories feel empty and one-dimensional.

Can you think of a favorite fictional character who began exactly in the same state as she ended?  Think of Scarlet in Gone with the Wind.  Brewed in a deep well of privilege, she begins selfish, entitled, and manipulative, as fascinating as she is unlikable.  When blow after blow strikes her down, we cheer as she hoists herself back up and keeps on trudging through the mud of civil war. That’s character. We want them strong, yet vulnerable. We want them to bleed, but still wade back into battle undaunted and, most importantly, we want them to learn from their trials.

We identify with the patterns of humanity we recognize. We need to see a living, beating heart in every book we read, even if it’s science fiction or fantasy. That’s where we identify the heroes that help us recognize a germ of the heroic in everyone.

As a writer, I set my characters on a path without knowing exactly how the voyage will transform them. So much of writing is a process of discovery for the author as well as the reader. We never take our fictional journeys alone.

For Phoebe McCabe in the Crime by Design series, a young woman begins in Rogue Wave believing that maturity can be measured in digits alone  until life and mayhem force her to dig deep inside herself to discover her true substance. By Warp in the Weave, she is maturing, her edges hardening, and by book three in the series, we will see a more heroic manifestation arising as the girl becomes a woman. In Frozen Angel, a woman fails to realize the power she possesses to change the destiny of both herself and those she loves. Though her journey pits her against supernatural forces, her character remains indelibly human.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether our stories are set in reality or in some semblance thereof, the core of fiction always pivots around what we recognize as human, even if it beats inside an alien heart.

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