I heard a truth recently that put things into perspective. My friend said, “We make personal vows with ourselves. These vows can stunt our growth and keep us from living full lives.”
That’s interesting, in our Monday morning writers’ group, I am teaching about developing a character arc and how it works in a story. To satisfy the reader, the character has to change throughout the book. On the first page, our character believes in a lie, such as everything is fine. Then comes the trigger, a problem, something beyond the control of the protagonist, which sparks the story.
Then the quest comes: “How do I get out of this mess?” The protagonist makes a critical choice, a way to get out of the problem. This often shows the reader exactly who the character is and how they are made. Real personalities are revealed at moments of high stress. They might deny that there is a problem, cheat, have a meltdown, go on a shopping spree, leave town or blow up the town. Their choice leads the narrative.
The story should unfold: relentlessly, unstoppable and plausibly. Then finally comes the end with a satisfying resolution where the character is changed, wiser and enlightened. Unless, of course, the book is written for a series and the character believes in another lie and there is another trigger and the story ends with another satisfying resolution.
I told the writers’ group that it’s like our lives. Some of us start out well, then we believe a lie and our story goes downhill fast. It never seems to have a satisfying resolution and ending. Some of us are in the third act of our story and may not be cast for a sequel. We might need to take heed to some of our personal vows before its too late.
I lack patience for people who won’t change and seem to always be in the same pickle. I don’t want to hear the same rehashing on an old problem. I’m willing to change, so I expect others to want to change. Maybe that is my lie and a personal vow I have made. Because of it, I’ve possibly eliminated some wonderful people from my life. I might have to work on that or maybe I won’t. I like my lie, it’s comfortable.
Would we ever have the guts to ask someone who keeps talking the same problem, “What lie are you believing?” They would deny that there could be something wrong with them. It is the world around them that causes the problem.
As I have finished writing my second book, “Heart Bender’s Secret,” which is now published, I am beginning the third book in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains Series. Each book in the series starts with the same character believing a new lie, with its own distinct conflict and a new resolution.
Do characters have to change in order for the story to be satisfying? No, but, if they don’t change, they have to be really lovable and believable so the readers will love them anyway.
Some characters never change and we don’t care; we like them the way they are, even if they are bank robbers such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Robert Leroy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy, was a notorious American train and bank robber, a leader of a gang of criminal outlaws known as the “Wild Bunch.”
His partner, Harry Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid, was as delightful as Cassidy. We fell in love with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. They weren’t stealing from us, so we could love them like they were.
Cassidy was forced to flee the country with his accomplice, the Sundance Kid, and his girlfriend, Etta Place. She loved Sundance and was willing to follow him in a torrid love affair. We wanted to follow them to Bolivia, too, believing they would change. A new country, a new life, but they ended up robbing another bank.
As a skillful writer, William Goldman embellished their true story, and made a character study of their remarkable friendship. The trio traveled to Bolivia, where Cassidy and Sundance were supposedly killed in a shootout with Bolivian police in November 1908.
Final brushstroke: Maybe, their personal lie was that robbing banks is easier and a lot more fun than a hard day’s work for an honest day’s pay. The writer said, “I shouldn’t have let them die. I could have written a sequel. They were the best characters I’ve ever written.”
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