Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Evolution of Character Values

When I think of character values the first thing that comes to mind is change. Since a major theme in most of my stories is redemption, the values of my characters change, by design, over the course of their story.

I’ve always been fascinated by character growth. To watch someone change over time, to mature emotionally, is an amazing thing. As a parent, I have the privilege of watching this happen with my children, and as a writer I can watch it happen to my characters.

One of my favorite examples of this type of character evolution isn’t even one of my own characters. She belongs to Joss Whedon and her name is Cordelia Chase. Anyone familiar with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel universe will remember Cordelia started out as the prettiest and wealthiest girl at Sunnydale High. She looked down her perfectly sculpted nose at everyone and occupied the coveted top spot in the cheerleader and social pyramid. She was the girl everyone wanted to be and the girl everyone loved to hate.

Flash forward a number of years and circumstances have left Cordelia destitute and trying to make a living as an actress in Los Angeles. By the time of her final appearance on Angel, she’s a heroine of epic proportions, a true champion. Her values undergo a 180 degree turn over the meandering course of her story.

Not every character needs to become their own polar opposite, but if at the end of a story, a character hasn’t changed, even a little bit, then something is missing. In my own work, I like to see how much my characters, especially my heroes, can change. In Wolfsbane: Aspect of the Wolf, for instance Daniel Garrison is a staunch crusader against the use of magick, until he discovers the only hope he has to cure his brother’s lycanthropy comes in the form of the witch he tried to run out of town. In Conjured in Flames, Lord Rodan develops sympathy and compassion for the woman he believes is an evil sorceress, and in Rogue Theta [available tomorrow from Ellora’s Cave] my heroine, Lilliana is the one who transforms from a calculating, professional assassin to a woman dedicated to helping the man she loves, even at the cost of her career and perhaps her life.

Character values are defined not only by who and what a character is, but by who and what they become.


Skylar Masey said...

Great post Jenn!

I think this is an important aspect for every writer to consider, because having the hero and heroine grow is tantamount to the story and character's arc.

Congrats on the new release from Ellora's Cave!

Jennifer Elbaum said...

Great post -- I hate pieces where the characters remain stagnant.

I really enjoyed Daniel's arc in Wolfsbane.

Lynda K. Scott said...

Great post, Jen! I love how the character change/arc combines with the conflict between your the h/h so vibrantly.

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Thanks, Skylar, Jen and Lynda! I'd ultimately love to do a story arc that lasts over several books and sees a character change as much as Cordelia does.