Saturday, October 22, 2011

Getting out of the "character comfort zone"

Sometimes I get so immersed in chapters of my WIP, and my main characters as they are in those chapters, that I have trouble remembering the characters are supposed to grow and change as the story progresses. When I think about the arc for each MC, I can see that change, but when I’m down in the trenches from chapter to chapter, it’s easy to get a handle on someone’s personality and then not want to struggle with changing it.

Of course, protagonists must have some degree of change. And for Street Glass, personality change for both Neal and Sandy is a major part of the plot. One way to keep from getting too comfortable with someone’s personality at any point in time is to jump ahead.

What I do for writing fun is think of an interaction I’ve never written out before; recently, it was events on the morning of Sandy’s wedding, and now I’m playing around with the evening of Neal’s first live show as second drummer. Neither of these may ever make it into any part of the novel. Critters may never see any version of them. But I write them mostly stream-of-consciousness style, with little thought to word choice, pacing, or those other things that tend to slow writers down. I just turn the characters loose and see what happens.

Not only is it incredibly fun (because there’s no pressure), scenes like that remind me of how the characters’ personalities change over time. Neal gets to a point where he eases from slangy English to grammatically correct English to slangy Spanish and back again, all in one paragraph, and Sandy has no trouble following his meaning. They’ve been through so much together that Sandy hardly even notices Neal’s language changes. However, in order for that to be plausible even in my own head, I have to show those changes happening gradually.

That keeps me focused on the chapters I know will be included in the novel. I tell myself that I’ll never be comfortable with those scenes that take place in the future if I don’t set them up right in the first place. Because I tend to be pretty literal and linear-minded, this works well for me.

By the time readers get to the end of your story, they should sense that your MC is not the same person he or she started out as. If you’re not sure that’s happening, or if critters are telling you they don’t think your major players have been affected by the big happenings, consider bouncing ahead several years. It make take you a few scenes to get the feel of how your character should have changed, but see what develops.

Don’t be afraid to get carried away. If you write enough future scenes that can be strung together, you might  do half the work for a sequel!

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