Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Character change

From Writers Unboxed, this: Emma vs Hamlet: Two Approaches to Dramatizing Character Change

No question so focuses the mind of a writer beginning to draft a scene—or the series of scenes that will comprise their story—as what do the characters want. The question instantly begs a slew of others: Why do they want it? Do they themselves know? How? With what degree of clarity, certainty, or honesty? What if they’re mistaken? Worse—what if they’re actively deluding themselves?

I’m not sure I have ever started a book by asking myself those questions. I think by the time I’m through the first couple of chapters, I probably know, but I haven’t framed it that way.

I am almost certain I’ve never deliberately chosen to write a character who was actively deluding herself about what she wanted. The closest I’ve come to that is probably Oressa in The Mountain of Kept Memory. Oressa thinks she wants to stay unobtrusive, but given a shove, it turns out that’s not really what she wants.

Or, actually, maybe Meridy in The White Road of the Moon. That’s a bit the same, although in that case, Meridy thinks she’s more self-contained, or perhaps thinks she ought to be more self-contained, than is actually the case.

Anyway, interesting idea for a post!

A classic example: Jane Austen’s Emma. When Emma, the match-making busybody, realizes that she is wildly mistaken in her beliefs about the other characters, she descends into a paralysis of self-questioning doubt. Mr. Knightly kindly guides her toward the truth, and the story comes to a happy end, with multiple well-paired marriages. 

… Instead, we all too often find ourselves in Hamlet’s shoes, weighing incompatible options, unable to decide, all too aware that whatever we choose the consequences are to some extent unpredictable, and that nothing will put a definitive end to our “problem.”

This is a long post, but well worth a look.

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8 Comments Character change

  1. SarahZ

    Speaking of character changes, have you read the latest Patricia Briggs? She’s rehabilitating Leah, Bran’s mate, and while I like her character being something more than just awful and bitchy, I don’t know if this feels consistent with previous books – curious for other opinions.

  2. Rachel

    How interesting, Sarah! No, I haven’t read this … let me see, it must be Wild Sign, right? I didn’t know that was out. Oh, I see it’s only been out for a week.

    I’m not sure I like this idea. I’m really not sure I much cared for the way that, in the previous book, Briggs suddenly declared that Bran himself had been attracted to Mercy — for several reasons, I didn’t appreciate that — and now I’m not necessarily keen on trying to re-cast Leah as a more sympathetic character either. That seems particularly iffy as Briggs made it pretty clear earlier that Bran specifically married Leah because he was confident he would never really care about her. If he felt like that, why should I feel differently? That strikes me as a hard sell. I liked the first books in this series a lot, but I’m not so sure I’m that interested in going on with it now.

    What did you think of the story overall? Thumbs up or thumbs down?

    I thought Ilona Andrews did a very good job rehabilitating Hugh in Iron and Magic. That’s one of the more successful redemption arcs I can think of in fantasy.

  3. Kootch

    Ilona Andrews’ latest book, “Blood Heir” is out now and I just cracked up at the scene with “Uncle Hugh”. And yes, I found that revelation of Bran’s attraction to Mercy really iffy.

  4. Rachel

    Good to hear, Kootch! I haven’t been that interested in Julie as a protagonist, but I may go ahead and pick this book up solely on the basis of anticipating “Uncle Hugh.” Particularly next time I’m not in the mood to read anything, because Ilona Andrews is good for breaking myself out of a reading slump.

    Yeah … I can sometimes just pretend an author didn’t take a character in a highly questionable direction, revise the world in my mind so that the highly questionable thing didn’t occur, and go on with a series. But now if Briggs is bringing Leah front and center, I’m afraid she’s going to keep on showing Bran in this way, and I don’t want that. I think I may be done with the Anna/Charles series, at least until a few more books are out and I can see from reviews whether this element has vanished.

  5. SarahZ

    Re: Wild Sign, it looks like we’re all (Briggs included) going to pretend that that conversation about Bran and Mercy never happened, which is how I’d prefer it. I’m not quite sure how I feel about Wild Sign, on the other hand. On its own, I thought it was an enjoyable story, but nothing about Bran or Leah’s arc in it felt consistent with what we knew about them previously. If that’d all been stuff we got from other POVs, that’d be ok, but I thought some of it was from Bran’s perspective, which makes it much trickier. Maybe I’ll do a reread to assess.

    Re: Julie’s book, I really enjoyed it – it looks like it might be launching a new series? I’m just happy to be back in that world, and Julie’s several years older and pretty different than how the books left her, so she’s half familiar, and half a new main character to learn about.

  6. Rachel

    Well, Sarah, it’s really good to know that Briggs is pretending that that conversation didn’t happen. That makes me a lot more willing to go on with the series. But Wild Sign does sound pretty much like one I don’t need to read, at least not any time soon. I would honestly prefer never to see anything from Bran’s POV. He works very well as a character seen from the outside.

    Okay, then, I’ll try Julie’s story next time I’m in a reading slump and want to get out. Right at the MOMENT, I don’t need to be reading anybody else’s novels! I’m sticking to re-reading and nonfiction till I’m ready to hit Publish on the Tenai trilogy.

  7. SarahZ

    To be clear: there isn’t any Bran POV in this book, but there was some in Cry Wolf (the first full A&O book), and I thought we got some of his thoughts about Leah directly in that that contradict what happens here – but, haven’t reread that in a while, so could be wrong. I do agree, he’s generally a better background character.

    Want to add – a few really major developments happen in the epilogue of this book, and have mixed feelings about one of those too. It doesn’t make too much sense to me – as in, the characters’ reasoning for why they’re doing this thing seems severely flawed. Can’t discuss further without being very spoilery, although it has no bearing on the rest of the book that preceeds it.

  8. Rachel

    I’m almost curious enough to read the book now solely to see what you’re talking about, Sarah. But not quite. Thanks for not spoiling, but I’ll try to remember your comments if and when I pick this book up.

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