Thursday, June 12, 2014

Evolution. No, not that evolution.

Last week we talked about motivation. But we also mentioned something that's crucial to every novel, just as it should be to every person. Evolution. I'm not here to debate the merits of the theory from a theological or scientific point of view. I'm talking about the evolution of characters.  Making the characters change as a result of things that happened to them in the story. Just like most people would change as a result of things that happened to them in real life. Do you think that Donald Sterling is quite as trusting now as he was a few months ago? He has evolved. (I just wanted to use that phrase in relation to that moron.)

Characters can evolve for any number of reasons. Let's take an unusual example. We look to our friends in the world of professional wrestling. Terry Bollea is known by the stage name as Hulk Hogan. The giant wrestler was a fan favorite and role model to young kids for many years and used his position to create quite a comfortable life for himself and his family. At some point the character of Hulk Hogan got stale and was starting to lose the interest of wrestling enthusiasts, so they made him evolve from a good guy to a bad guy named Hollywood Hogan. Simple, some would say stupid, but effective. Once again his popularity soared, only this time people rooted against him. If that trick works in something as ridiculous as professional wrestling, imagine what you, as a writer, could do with it in a novel.

I'll use another example, this one from the literary world, however it is currently best known as the TV show Game of Thrones. Anyone who has followed the remarkable series knows that in one of the first episodes, the heir to the Lancaster name, Jamie Lannister, pushes an innocent ten-year-old boy from a tower in an effort to keep the boy quiet after he has witnessed Lancaster having sex with his own sister. If that is not the setup for an old-time bad guy, I don't know what is. I remember watching the show on a Sunday evening and the emotional reaction I had to that putrid, arrogant asshole of the character. I was counting the moments until Jamie Lannister met some horrible end. And he only made it worse over the course of a couple of seasons. He strangled his own cousin in an effort to escape captivity. I cheered when his hand was cut off by a rival. But now, over a long period and through superb writing, I may not love the guy, but compared to the other villains in Kings Landing, I like to see him on screen. That is the mark of a good writer. I tip my hat to George R.R. Martin for his remarkable series of books.
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Once again, I will use one of my own series of books. In Walking Money, one of the main bad guys is an attorney named Cole Hodges. He was fun to write. An amoral attorney skimming money from the poor with a past that no one knew about. He was an outright killer if he had to be. And he believed in street justice. To me, he was one of the more interesting characters in the book and did things that were unpredictable. He was articulate and intelligent, as well as violent and surprising. In the second novel of the trilogy, Shock Wave, he was not present in the book at all.

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In the third novel, Escape Clause, which takes place in a prison on the edges of the Everglades, it seemed like a natural place to have my favorite character from the first book. I liked him so much that I allowed him to escape from prison. Some people said they even rooted for him.  By the end of the book he has escaped to a safe haven where he meets the bad guy from Shock Wave. My plan was to have those two become friends and go on their own adventure. Not necessarily as villains.  But, as any professional writer can tell you, things don't always work out the way you plan in publishing. But I was still happy with the evolution of the character from absolute evil genius to sort of evil genius. I couldn't bring myself to allow him to meet a grisly death. As a result, I milked the character for another book. That's a win.

This week's quote is:

“I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they “don’t have time to read.” This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.” ― Stephen King


  1. Love that quote by Stephen King. Many years ago my writing group was interviewing a potential member for the group, an attorney with aspirations of writing the Great American Novel. I asked her what she liked to read. She said, "Oh, I don't have time to read." Needless to say, she didn't make the cut.

  2. James O. Born6/12/2014 11:43 AM

    I get that a lot. I also have people tell me I have to write their life story because it would be a big hit. There are a number of common misconceptions people have about writing. Reading is the first among them.

  3. from Jacqueline: I love that quote too - I am amazed by the number of people who want to be writers, but who never pick up a book and actually read. Makes me wonder ...

    Another excellent post, Jim - thank you for these, they are so inspiring!

  4. james o. born6/12/2014 6:48 PM

    Thanks, Jackie. Its fun when you hit your stride. I had to post for a few weeks in advance due to travel.

  5. I'd like to play Major League Baseball but I have no time for batting practice.