Think about who you were 5 years ago, 10 years ago. Are you the exact same person? Well, of course you are! But in some ways you’re not. You’ve learned, you’ve had life experiences. You may have changed jobs, moved, graduated, gained a family.
In other words, you have grown and changed as a person. Everything you’ve experienced in life, good and bad, now impact the choices you make.
Consider this example, last week you drove down the main street in your town. It took almost 15 minutes to navigate less than 2 miles of roadway. You decided that was a fluke and did it again the following day and the day after that. And, guess what, it still took 15 minutes to traverse that road. When you are making the decision of driving down that road this morning, will you leave a few minutes earlier to allow for the extra driving time? Will you find another way to get where you are going?
Similarly, your character needs to learn from his or her experiences. Each action in the book, each conflict are like tiny seeds planting the roots of your character’s growth.
They need to grow as they experience life, aka what’s happening to them in the book. They must evolve and change, conquer their fears and find new directions by the books end. Now, I don’t know that these always need to be great big discoveries. Quiet moments of growth are still growth.
Take, for instance, a story about a widow, who, through the course of a novel, discovers that she not only has an inner strength, but has a hidden talent (say painting) is a story about growth. Likewise a blockbuster novel where there is action on every scene as the hero tries to best the villain is a novel of growth (catch the villain, save the world).
Some posit that not every character needs growth. I recently read an article on character growth that maintained that some characters do not grow and change throughout the story. And, indeed, I recently read a novel where the protagonist was so remote, so removed from the actions in the story she seemed detached from the reader and the plot.
While such characters do have their place in fiction, I, personally, believe that these are not the majority of fictional characters. For most of us, the characters we write will need to learn, grow and change. Thereby becoming truly rich characters in the eyes of the reader.
YOUR HOMEWORK: Think about your main characters. What life experiences have made them who they are? What obstacles do they face in your story? How can those experiences impact their lives?
Writer, Editor and Author of the Achdus Club novels for girls.