Friday, February 4, 2011

Changing Priorities and Character Growth

Girl on a red carpet--Felice Casorati (1883-1963)[2]I was talking to another parent the other day and thinking about how even small goals and priorities change with time.

When my daughter was a brand-new baby, my number one goal was just to keep her in clean bibs (spitty baby.) I’d go buy bibs in bulk and find the right size—big enough to keep her from ruining her smoked dresses, but not so big that you couldn’t see the smocking (this was also around the time that I started writing my first book. I think the bibs started boring me. :) )

Shortly afterward, my number one goal was to keep my toddling daughter from losing her lovey, Dirty Baby. Losing Dirty Baby was a complete and utter nightmare. I would do anything to keep from losing that dolly. The child couldn’t sleep, eat, or do anything but wail unless Dirty Baby was in her arms. I ended up buying another baby doll just like that one and dirtying it up myself just in case we had a catastrophe and needed a substitute. I tell you, I was obsessed with Dirty Baby’s well-being.

Then there was my ongoing attempt to get rid of my daughter’s pacifier. She and I ended up sending the pacifiers up to the Guh-guh fairy up in the sky. (Yes. I tied several pacifiers onto a huge bunch of balloons and sent them up into space so that the Guh-guh fairy could redistribute them to babies who still needed binkies.

As my daughter grew older and went to elementary school, obviously, my goals and priorities changed and became broader and less focused on the day-to-day. And I became a bit more focused on me and what I wanted to do since I had a little extra time. That’s when I started pouring more focused energy into my writing.

As I look at the last nine years, I can see tremendous change in my personal priorities.

What about our characters? It’s important to know what our characters want…we hear a lot about that. But what about character growth that causes changes in characters’ goals? As we get older, we experience change (jobs, finances, marriage, divorce, children, empty nests, etc.), and our wants, needs, priorities, and goals change.

Sometimes our goals and priorities can change rapidly in response to an abrupt change of circumstances; a catastrophic financial burden like a family member’s expensive medical problem, a grown child who moves back home, an aging parent, etc.

Obviously, this can also bring conflict or even changes in a character’s outlook on life. Think about the main character in the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life. His priority was always to go off and see the world—until reality in the form of various family and community responsibilities forced him on a different track. So you could even have the character’s dream and the character’s reality be in conflict with each other.

Do you know what your character wants? Has what your character wants changed at all, or could it?


Also—I have an announcement to make. :) I just signed a contract for a new, three-book mystery series with Penguin’s NAL imprint under my own name. The series is set in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina and the first book (which I’m currently writing) involves a murder that affects members of a quilting guild in the small town of Dappled Hills. Thanks to Penguin and to my agent, Ellen Pepus, for the opportunity!