It’s New Year’s Eve. 2013 has been great to me, with two new books published and wealth of great experiences. On the cusp of 2014, I find myself thinking of change. Yeah, I know it’s not a big stretch of the intellect.
Recently I was discussing a short story I edited for a talented Cyberpunk author, Matthew Cox. He said, “You know, I think that’s probably the shortest thing I ever wrote. The hard part for me in a short format was having a sense that at least one character had some manner of growth.” I’ve been thinking about that since. How long does it take to make a change?
As an author, I think about it in terms of characters and words. In order for a change to be believable, how much does a character have to go through? As a person, I put the same question to my own life. Does real personal growth only happen after significant events, as fiction seems to imply?
I have friends who say people never change. They cite many examples of character traits in children, which persist through adulthood. In fact, a lot of the traditional literary fiction centers around the “people don’t change” theme. Tokien, Dickens, and other writers have capitalized on this by stereotyping characters according to traits. So we only have to think of Elrond or Miss Havisham to get a very strong image associated with their character traits.
While many people and characters will never change, the question is whether their remaining the same is because they didn’t have anything happen to inspire such a change. It’s possible in fiction for a character to have nothing important happen to them. However, life seems to put us all in the way of significant events whether we want them or not.
So what inspires change? The same terrible tragedy might inspire one person to grow and change, while it further solidifies the traits of another. Having a loved one die of cancer may spark one sibling to change their life and become a better person, while sending another to drink half to death.
Thus in life, one can only conclude that the changes we make are a choice. We choose how the events of our lives shape us. The same is true of characters in stories of any length. The bumps and bruises we feel as we travel the river of time through our lives can propel us forward or capsize the ship.
This is the whole meaning of fiction. It is why a made-up person in a fantastic world can still inspire us and change our lives. While we may never stand before a dragon holding a sword, we can use the example of characters when they do. We can see how they let the difficulties they face make them into heroes, and it gives us strength to keep the boat floating through the white waters we all must face.
May all your challenges lift you higher in 2014!