How characters evolve

Fictional characters regularly hit life’s highs and lows. They evolve through experiences so off the chart most of us will never experience them; and hopefully not in the space of a few days. Lost your job, your husband left you, your child is a troublemaker AND then the story starts. (To read that one, try HIDE IN PLACE by our own Emilya Naymark).

Even “Fun” books do this

These things don’t happen by accident. And it’s not limited to the murder and mayhem of mystery novels. Elin Hilderbrand, bestselling author and, according to the New York Post “the queen regent of easy-breezy summer reads,” says that making it looks easy requires agonizing work: “a labor of love, but a labor nonetheless.”

Creating is work

How do authors get from “a book about a woman trying to get her life back on track after her husband dies, while maintaining her career and taking care of young children” to trapped in an iced-in chateau, discovering the very close-to-home reason her husband killed himself, while tracking a murderer and searching for a missing child? And that’s not all . . . (This is from my own book SWISS VENDETTA.)

The answer is, we work at it. We take a situation and make it worse. New on the job and a dead body has been discovered. Okay, let’s add a storm that will prevent help arriving. What could be worse? Your old work partner shows up. Now, you’re snowed in together (and don’t forget the dead body).

Take a bad situation and make it worse. Give false hope. These are the elements we crave as readers. How will our favorite character deal with it? Will this be the thing, the final thing, that breaks her? Or . . . brings her the much sought after happiness.

Can you spot all the road blocks?

When you go back through a favorite book, pay attention to the obstacles both large and small. Death, terminal disease, and kidnapping can’t happen on every page, or even in every chapter; however, our characters face an uphill battle more than you might realize. The missed bus, or phone call. A drop in cell service. A highly anticipated note pinned to their door . . . but it’s gotten wet and is illegible. Ignored in the meeting, left to pay the bar tab (with their last remaining cash which later they need for . . . something important – this is where the author spends a day imagining what that something is, and then revises to make it more harrowing). Books are filled with the hardships of life, all which let us commiserate and imagine ourselves dealing with the same situation. In our imaginations we might even do a better job!

Fiction lets us “live” the extreme highs and lows without suffering. If you have encountered a string of dire situations, fiction may help you see that, in the end, things will improve. Okay, maybe not if you are reading Anna Karenina, but keep in mind Tolstoy was Russian and they don’t shy away from the bad stuff.

While it’s cold and blustery outside this week, I’m going to dive into Deanna Raybourn’s latest, AN UNEXPECTED PERIL. I’m pretty sure I’m going to end up on top of a mountain, where I trust that her heroine will save the day and guide me safely home.

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