People who read series enjoy seeing the characters evolve, grow into something, make improvements, suffer setbacks and more. Many of us evolve in real life—not all, but many—so it makes sense that our favorite fictional characters do the same.
I just finished the first draft of A Murder Shatters Peaceful Valley, and in taking a quick look back through the progression of the story, I noticed that I really rocked the world of my main character, Zachary Gagewood. It was not my intention to send him through the gauntlet, but in the end, it made him a better person, or at least more interesting, than he was in the beginning.
There’s something I read online a while back, and I can’t remember who wrote it, but it was talking about all the horrible things authors do to their characters. The person poses this query: “So far, our protagonist has been beaten, shot, tortured, left for dead in an alley, poisoned, evicted in the dead of night. He’s suffered amnesia, lost his entire family and been diagnosed with lung cancer and a heart condition. How much more can one person stand?”
The response: “Let’s stab him.”
Yes, writers are an interesting lot. A little macabre and twisted, too.
However, the point is that evolution is healthy for your characters. You don’t want to be the same person years from now. Some things are going to change.
They certainly did for Zachary. In the latest book, Zachary quickly loses his boyfriend. I don’t mean in a breaking-up, Zachary-crying-in-the-dark-with-a-tub-of-rocky-road. I just sent Newell to Texas. It was significant, though, because over the course of the series, Zachary has fallen in love with Newell and eventually moved in with him. To be apart from his man for an extended period is something that Zachary has to adjust to, and Zachary doesn’t always react well to change. Case in point: His freak-out when his best friend, Kevin, left Gresham suddenly and didn’t even say goodbye.
That was a challenge for Zachary not only in the interpersonal sense, but because Newell tended to be a pillar of support whenever Zachary went searching for murderers, Zachary had to go it without his lover for the first time since the first book in the series, As American as Apple Pie.
Unlike in the first book, however, Zachary’s life is in more peril. He narrowly escapes two explosions and is in a bullet-ridden car chase with polygamists.
The last two chapters really put Zachary through the wringer, and although I can’t tell you why without giving away the ending, I can tell you that he’s forever changed after the experience. One thing I can tell you—he wasn’t stabbed.
I look back at how Zachary has grown since the beginning, and it’s quite intriguing. He started out running a small bookstore in Gresham, a tiny village of 600. In later books, he expands the size of the shop, and in A Murder Shatters Peaceful Valley, he even helps an employee start her own bookstore in another community.
People who grow become more fulfilled. People who don’t are just stuck in an endless loop of being mediocre. That’s never worked for me personally, so it won’t work that way for my characters or my writing, either.
Hmm. I wonder what I should put Zachary through in the eighth book.
Maybe I could stab him.