Friday, November 18, 2011

Writing Workshop – Character Development: The makings of a man or woman

Many cultures celebrate the rite of passage when a person transitions into adulthood. Sometimes, it is as elaborate as a Bar Mitzvah or Quinceanera. Sometimes, it is as simple as graduation. While those ceremonies or celebrations mark milestones in a person’s life, does the person actually transition into adulthood?

We walk through life going through milestones. At any milestone in my life, I did not say afterwards, “Now, I am an adult.” A series of choices and life experiences as I age rounds maturity. But fiction is different. Or is it?

Regardless of genre, fiction mirrors life. A character, like a person, needs a reason to develop. The passing of time does not automatically denote maturation. When developing maturity in a character, especially a younger character, an internal switch must flip.

The internal switch is integral to how the character reacts to his or her surroundings. This must go beyond normal development when maturing a character. While any character can have self discovery throughout the story, turning a child into an adult requires that extra step. The extra step is also required for a child-like adult character.

I think the question we have to ask ourselves, especially as writers, is what constitutes the dusk of childhood and the dawn of adulthood?

For me, it all has to do with a character’s maturity.

Maturity begins with a single choice. That single choice can be accepting responsibility for actions taken or mistakes made. Or, it can be the character chooses to make a personal sacrifice. How the character reacts to love and loss propels maturity too. However, the final step is when the character realizes that his or her choice is different from all of those made prior.

The timing of that realization can vary. Perhaps the character does not realize the maturity of the decision until after a number of chapters. This gives the reader an inside edge while he or she wonders when the character will come around. Perhaps the character mulls over the decision finally making the “right” choice. The reader, in turn, journeys with the character, discovering when the character discovers.

Character maturation is a great tool for allowing the reader to root for the character. Often seen in main “hero” characters, I like to allow other characters to mature as well. It gives supporting characters depth and can make not-so-good characters likable.

When it comes to maturation, we must remember that it cannot be forced. Characters should be allowed to develop maturity naturally as the plot progresses. Anything less will seem off to the reader. Trust your instincts. If the characters or situation feels forced to you, then it will to the reader. Readers often notice more than we writers intend seeing deeper into our stories which gives them lasting enjoyment.

As I write my next novel, I ask myself if I want the transition to be gradual throughout the story or in an all-of-a-sudden moment. I have decided to let the characters tell me when they are ready to take that next big step into becoming their own men and women.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Where the Heart Resides

November conjures the autumnal finale. The last of the multicolored show cascades to the earth, poised to reinvigorate the cooling soil. Northerly winds promise to bring blustery billows of white. This is the perfect time to savor the fruits of this year’s harvest. Around the dining room table, we will gather with our loved ones before winter finally settles in.

My turkey is ordered from a local farm. I anticipate oyster stew, sweet potato casserole, mashed rutabaga, brussel sprouts sautéed with chestnuts, cranberry mold, pumpkin and pecan pies, and lots of elation in the kitchen with my family.

Thanksgiving is filled with fun, laughter and enough food to last us until Christmas. In the spirit of giving thanks, I want to share part of the Thanksgiving scene in The World In-between.