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Writing Advice from the Bookshelf: Brandilyn Collins on Character Growth

Friday, August 7, 2015

Excerpt from Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors by Brandilyn Collins

Getting into Character

Too often authors—particularly first-time authors—make their characters turn suddenly, one event moving them from darkness to light, or light to darkness. This is simply not the nature of human passions. To believe a change from fear to courage, a reader must perceive from the outset a tiny bead here and there of potential bravery. These may be almost imperceptible, but they will be present. Then, slowly, more “bravery” beads are added as the “fearful” beads decrease in number. A little more, and a little more, until the shade of the entire necklace begins to change. What’s more, somewhere along the way the color of each individual “courage” bead intensifies. Then perhaps a few “fearful” beads are added back in, and the shade becomes difficult to determine. Then more “courage” beads are returned, and still more and more added until finally the change is complete.

These changes won’t occur at an even pace throughout your book. Certain key events will prompt the addition of numerous beads at once, whether the positive ones of courage or the setbacks of returning fear. The crisis and climax of your story may involve a relatively major change for your character. Readers expect that. But they will only believe such change when they’ve seen the natural progression of colors that must precede it. Being human themselves and having experienced their own passions, they will inherently know if your story is true to human nature or if it’s not.

Work Cited:

Collins, Brandilyn. Getting Into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002. 102–103. Print.

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