This post also features in the accalimed A Fantasy Writers’ Handbook.
Available now at Amazon in ebook and paperback, currently with 25% off!
The Wheels of Change
Everything in this world of ours changes. Mountains crumble into the sea. Islands disappear. Forests become icecaps. Change is eternal. It is one of life’s only constants. For some of us, we welcome it, embrace it. Others resist.
Think of ourselves. Most of us want some kind of change in our lives. We want to better our standing, get a job we enjoy more, earn more money, buy more stuff. Think back to the past, to your school years. How many of those best friends are you still in contact with now, and I bet you were inseparable with a few? What would be a thought that would enter your mind when debating whether or not to reach out to them now? Things aren’t the same as they used to be.
We do not live static existences. Sometimes we change through choice, and other times it is thrust upon us. Even the most ritualistic individuals experience some kind of change that alters their lives in stressful and conflicting ways. The closure of a local pub can cause great distress for the old patrons. What else have they to do with the long and lonely hours of the day? Where else have they to go? It seems mighty trivial, but trust me, I’ve run a pub. Some people shape their lives around routine, and when what may seem a trivial change occurs, the ripples knock off course everything else in their life.
Change can be good or it can be bad. Often in fiction, we’re faced with negative changes, changes that create conflict in the lives of our characters. It’s through reacting to these conflicts our characters grow, at times by making the right move and resolving the conflict, or the wrong move and making things worse.
Many fantasy stories involve characters from humble beginnings that, as a result of decisions both voluntarily and involuntarily, go on to achieve greatness. Pug in Raymond Feist’s Riftwar Cycle, Kvothe in Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings, to name but a few.
By this point, I may hopefully have convinced you in the constant and capricious nature of change. You may now be wondering how it relates to creating characters?
“There is only one realm in which characters defy natural laws and remain the same—the realm of bad writing. And it is the fixed nature of the characters that make the writing bad.” Lajos Egri.
Characters may go on a physical journey, but often the greatest one of all is the one they go on within themselves, the change they go through as they overcome trials and tribulations, heartbreak and despair.
Let’s take a look at what we can do to get that wheel of change spinning.
Characters can be motivated to act by any number of influences and pressures. Let’s take a gambler who’s fallen into debt with an unsavoury chap. This moneylender has beaten him for the money, and now is threatening to hurt his family. He is afraid. He’s not much of a fighter, nor is he overly aggressive. But he cares deeply for his family. These conflicting pressures force him to make a decision: fight back or flee?
What can influence a decision?
Innumerable factors can influence even the most trivial of decisions, yet so often they fall under the umbrellas of the physiological, the sociological and the psychological—indeed, the very make-up of our characters.
Who we are, what we believe, how we were raised etc. influence what decisions we make and that, in turn, can lead us down paths of change. According to Egri, it’s knowing in detail these characteristics that help us determine whether a character has made the choice most consistent with who they are. Or as Egri put it: ‘Only in bad writing does a man change without regard to his characteristics.’
There’s a nifty tool to help plot character growth, a development line of sorts, known as ‘the everyman and the superman.’
The ‘everyman’ is the average Joe. The person content with their lot, until life throws a twist, perhaps forcing them on a path they never intended. That path, and the obstacles they must overcome along it, leads them to change and develop as individuals, maybe learning things about themselves they never knew, realising their potential, or gaining new skills to help them become ‘supermen’ or ‘superwomen’.
Generally, a story involving a rounded ‘superman’ tends to involve a highly competent character saving the world. There isn’t much room for character growth because they’re already the best at everything, ever. Take James Bond, for example. He’s forever foiling plots to destroy the world and nobody ever doubts that he’s going to fail.
Supermen, however, can fall like redwoods, and this is an interesting approach you can take to shake things up. How can that once great character regain their greatness?
If you enjoyed this post, why not join my writing community? Everyone receives a free ebook on the craft of writing, lists of publishers of short and long fantasy fiction, and a list of over 100 fantasy book reviewers. All you need to do is complete the form below!