Character development in life & fiction writing

I change my hair a lot.

And when I say “I change my hair a lot” I don’t mean I change it slightly but often.

I mean I warn prospective employers that there is a relatively high probability I will show up to work at some point with hair color that belongs in a Katy Perry video as opposed to a L’Oreal commercial. 

I mean that I have been known to leave work on a Tuesday with brown curly hair, and come in Wednesday with stick-straight platinum blond locks and a streak of shocking purple in the front.  Or just dye it red for the month of March in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

When it comes to my hair, I am extremely comfortable with change. Other changes, not always so much.

Whenever I change jobs, I literally make myself sick stressing about telling my current employer I’m leaving.  I have freaky nightmares wherein my new job is actually a ruse by the FBI to force me into working for them as a psychic detective.  It’s crazy.

Let’s not even talk about moving houses. We moved 15 times in our first 10 years of marriage. It’s a miracle I never actually taped myself into a box filled with styrofoam peanuts just to escape the ordeal till it was over.  Actually, one time I did fall asleep from exhaustion on the floor in the guest bedroom of a new house, and didn’t wake up till Chris and his Air Force buddies had furnished the place around me.

We’re in the middle of changing a lot of things about our lives. Chris’ diabetes is one reason we needed to change. My desire to regulate my brain chemistry without medications that have side effects worse than my symptoms is another.  Some of the things we’re changing relate to our kids and how we parent them. We’re about to start some serious remodeling of the Grey Cottage. I’m changing some old attitudes and habits related to work, to writing, and to my faith life.

It all sort of makes the four to six inches of hair I had lopped off because of the 100 degree heat seem minor.

In Bitter Cold, my steampunk fairy tale based on Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, the two main characters Kit and Greta are going through a period of change. Childhood friends, they’re now adults, and their relationship is changing because of it. One of them is in denial about that change; the other is painfully aware of it. Their wildly different responses to that change sets off an unexpected chain of events.

The best stories (in life and fiction) show character development. Character development means how a character changes between the beginning of the story and the end.  It’s important when you’re writing fiction to think about how the events of the story will change your main characters. Will they be smarter? Stronger? More hopeful? More cynical?

If you’re not a writer, you still have to think about character development: your own.  Life is largely a Choose Your Own Adventure, after all.  What potential do different choices have to change your attitude, your beliefs, or your circumstances?

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