Lesson #1: Obstacles Shape Character Growth
Two years ago, when I started this project, I didn’t know the first thing about showing a character develop as the story progressed. Over time, however, after my third complete rewrite of the 83,000-word manuscript, I found myself realizing what makes a character interesting. It’s their believability and their growth as a person.
I asked myself, could this character be someone I actually know?
If I met this character, would they be believable, or would they come across as a fake person?
If I got to know them, would I see them realistically change as time progressed?
These were the questions I asked myself when I rewrote the novel for the third time. I wanted the characters to feel real, but more than that, I wanted them to change over time. Real people do just that.
When it comes to people I absolutely love and adore today, I can remember a time when I wasn’t fond of them, for whatever reason. But the truth is I just didn’t know them. I only had sour first impressions with them, and I mistakenly judged them based off of those first impressions.
These real elements to relationships is what I have tried to capture in Sulcrus.
For example, one of the side characters, Riveran Kurt, is a drug-driven partier and Josh’s roommate. This was a delicate character to write because I didn’t want him to come across as too over the top.
However, it is actually more genuine to make a character like this wild upon first impression. For him to be authentic, he needs to come off this way (at least at first, before his character arc takes its subtle course).
Genuine druggies say and do outrageous things, and Riveran is no exception. He has few morals and takes too many chances with his health. It’s over time, though, through new trials, obstacles and separation from his addictions, that Riveran has the opportunity to become something quite different.
I believe the transition from fake to real needs to involve struggles. This is where growth happens. It is through real struggles that a real person can develop into something good or bad.
When I think back to the toughest times of my life, I remember changing as a result of the struggles. It was at the end of those trials that I felt like a more genuine person; someone with a better understanding of hard work, disappointment, temptation, or suffering. I guess that’s because I became familiar with the real world, and it gave me a deeper appreciation for being real.
I believe it is those who have endured trials who are the realest people you will ever meet. You may not like them, but they are typically pretty honest and genuinely themselves.
Claire Fairbanks is another major character who exemplifies this point.
She is the know-it-all classmate of Josh’s who can’t seem to let him make his own scientific point without cutting him off. And without giving too much away before you read the novel, I’ll say that she also exemplifies the idea that change can happen when facing metaphorical giants (and if you’re in the worlds of Sulcrus, facing the literal ones too).
Lesson #2: Turn up the Sympathy Meter
My favorite character in the book is Mercum, an orc-like beast and sendara rider who grows up as a slave on Comuco. He was born with an ominous red mark across his face, and many people who live in his village believe it has sinister origins.
The mark affects Mercum in many negative ways (as you will see when you read the novel), but what’s lovable about him is the fact that he keeps running into trouble by no mistake of his own. His destiny is twisted, and this causes the reader to be incredibly sympathetic to his life. His upbringing is cruel, his home planet is showered in gloomy clouds, and the Oppressors kill his people at the slightest disobedience.
You can’t help but root for the guy who can’t seem to catch a break.
Merc, of course, attempts to fight for virtue, but his mark pulls him in another direction. The voices of the Darkness lead him against what he knows to be right.
I love this aspect to Mercum because I believe there are things in our lives that we can’t control, like feelings of the heart and temptations to do wrong. Both of these can cause us to do wicked things. You feel sympathy for Mercum because of the exaggeration of this element in his life.
Through writing (and rewriting) Sulcrus, I’ve partially learned the art of letting the tribulations change characters in a refreshing way for the reader. I’ve also learned that turning up the sympathy meter allows the reader to cherish and root for a character.
If you find yourself with a feeling at the end of the first book that you want more character growth, don’t worry, the trilogy is in the works. The full character arcs span over a thousand pages of story line.
I can’t wait for you guys to get your hands on this book. Please comment below your favorite example of character development, and/or any questions you may have about this topic!