When Characters Grow Up


I'm discovering a new pleasure in novel writing. The whole of Cromzone, my ongoing novel, is the narrative of a boy, just turned seventeen. The forces of the state, of science, of the environment and friends and family, put extraordinary pressure on him along the way. I know in advance the sequence of actions that are to be hurled against his life. What I haven't known is how he would react. I began to fear for the book somewhat, wondering if he would last the pace, fearing his experiences would whittle him down to almost nothing. My book needs him to have the strength to be more than a victim, but that's an unfair demand of someone who is being victimized.

I'm pleased to say he's doing well. I come back to him after each big event and discover he's changed. His reactions are not what they would have been. His experiences keep changing him. He keeps growing up.

Actors used to ask me about the curve of their character's experience. They required that the character they were playing be on some journey. My lead characters in the past have tended to be passive witnesses of extraordinary events. It's the Christopher Isherwood 'I Am a Camera' school of writing. It's great to find my characters moving beyond that, and feels like a real writing evolution. My lead character is finding the courage to live his own life. Like fate I know what's in store, like a sculptor hammering blows down on a block of marble, but I don't know how the character will emerge. I brought him into being and now he is his own creation.

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