A Tennis Reunion and Writing. The Authors Collection.
March 11, 2014
A couple of months ago, my undergraduate school had a tennis reunion and honored the team from when I was captain. They named us the team that put tennis on the map for St. Mary’s University. While I don’t make too many school reunions, I felt I needed to go to this one. Two of the players from those years had died, but the remaining members showed up.
Amazingly, even after fifty years, I immediately recognized one of the old team. George had changed. Considerably. His slender frame had given way to a more robust body, carrying forty or fifty more pounds than when he scurried around the court protecting a weak backhand and winning most points with a sweeping forehand. But, he had the same, playful, infectious smile, a feature more prominent than his forehand cross court.
George went on to become a ranked player in the state and then a popular tennis instructor, eventually opening his own tennis facility and teaching hundreds of people the finer points of the game.
Then there was Juve. He had come in as a freshman, short, thin, and confident. He was still short, still confident, but not quite as thin. Looking closely, you could see the same friendly, kind face. He had spent many years coaching in high school. He’d coached championship teams, just as he had been a conference champion before he graduated college.
And of course, me. In fact, I didn’t weigh any more than I did in my college days. But I have redistributed it a bit. I coached high school tennis for a few years, played tournament tennis, switched from an English undergraduate degree to graduate degrees in mathematics.
We had all changed, aged, grown, filled out in one way or another. And yet, at some core level, we are the same. George is still the fun loving guy with the big smile. Juve is still the kind person you’re happy to call a friend. And I am back to English and writing.
So, what does this have to do with writing? Your characters need to change. They may not get much older if your book doesn’t cover years. But they need to grow, to learn, be changed by the events you put in the book, in their story. If the events of the book have no effect on your major characters, what were they doing? Were they merely observers, watching a video game, oblivious of any impact those events had on people? If so, perhaps you need to rework the latter part of the book.
And yet, there should be certain core values that remain the same. This is the same person, but changed. The moral compass may have wiggled a little, but it has not rotated 180 degrees. The reader can tell it is the same person, but changed by the plot you have constructed. If it does appear the needle has swung 180 degrees, you need to plant the germ early in life that will allow for this radical change.
In my book CHARACTER: THE HEARTBEAT OF A NOVELl, I call this the fourth dimension. We make a three dimensional character, and then we add change. If you r characters don’t change, you are robbing them of a very human characteristic. Use a character arc. Make four dimensional characters. Your readers – and your characters – will appreciate it.
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