I’m facing an interesting challenge with my upcoming novel, which has me thinking a lot about character development. Characters are by far my favorite aspect of writing, and inner conflict is the thing that gets me most excited about a plotline – I love constructing the cause and effect interplay between a story and the people in it. When it clicks, the plot and the characters play off each other in this beautifully logical dance, and it doesn’t even feel like work to write it. LOVE IT!
Character development is a damn tricky thing, though, especially when it’s necessary for a character to undergo a supremely intense transformation. You don’t want your characters to have too little growth through the course of the story, or you lose a whole dimension of what’s satisfying about both the writing and the reading of fiction. On the other hand, you can’t make a character do a complete about-face unless you really lay the groundwork first. And that groundwork better be convincing.
People are full of potential – toward all kinds of things. We don’t have just a potential to live up to, we have hundreds of possible potentials that are constantly in flux, always vying for dominance in our actions and behaviors and attitudes. Unless you know someone very well, you probably see only a small range of possibilities in them. Some people you’re close enough to that you’re aware of the contradictions within them and you can see all sorts of angles to what makes up who they are. I get a lot of inspiration in writing simply from observing other people, being aware of how people operate and think, paying attention to dichotomies and wondering how seeming contradictions are resolved within one person.
One of the most important things to do when you’re aiming a character toward a major, life-altering transformation is to hint at the fact that they already have this other, new self in them. It’s there, dormant, waiting to be unlocked. They already are who they’re about to become, on some level. Maybe the other characters are shocked at this previously untapped part of them being suddenly displayed, but it was always there. That’s the way things work in real life, and that’s the only way to make such a metamorphosis believable in fiction.
“People don’t change” is one of the least accurate phrases ever uttered, and yet, in a way, it’s also true. People do change, sometimes a great deal, both externally and internally, particularly in the intense circumstances that characters in fiction are often put through, but you’re never going to be a whole new person, especially overnight, and neither will your characters.
My challenge: making an altruistically inclined woman who wants to improve the world into a ruthless, cutthroat murderess who’ll stop at nothing to bend everything to her will. And then deciding if there’s any hope for her redemption somewhere later on in the series. I know the events that lead to her changing, much of the way her intentions twist from positive to horrific, and the sources of her need for control and power. The hard part is turning her into a cold-blooded killer. We shall see how I fare at this task next month!