After years of searching and trying to figure out what it is that gives that feeling of emotional depth and “umph” to a character, I finally found this post which nailed it for me: http://www.crackingyarns.com.au/2011/04/04/a-new-character-driven-heros-journey-2/
Copyright: Allen Palmer
Ironically it wasn’t a site on novel writing but a script writing site. It talks about the necessary “transformation” of character that we’ve come to expect in much of modern writing. Now, this stuff isn’t new to me but I always got confused in applying the catchphrases to my own work, especially dealing with YA stuff. But after reading this post and others on this site, and synthesizing the insights with other items I’ve studied/read, I think at the end of the day what they’re all trying to say is that, over the course of the story the protagonist(s) need to grow emotionally. That growth can be positive or negative, and it can happen gradually or in an instant (much more dramatic) as all the inciting incidents come to bear in a flash of growth-provoking pressure. Two instances – again, citing movies, and ironically movies that the Crawling Yarns guy didn’t even like that much but that I did – are Sideways and Up in the Air. Technically, nothing climactic happens here: at the end of Sideways the protagonist is still single, lost, divorced; at the end of Up in the Air, George Clooney’s one anchoring relationship has gone up in smoke. BUT. You get the sense at the end of Sideways that Miles is moving emotionally out of the morass of his divorce; his love interest actually calls him back and tells him his screenplay doesn’t suck, and he is now able to receive that news positively instead of wallowing in self doubt. He’s looking forward to the future at last. And as for Clooney, at the end of the movie he has realized the shallowness of his current life, suggesting that he can now do something to change it. Oh, and a last one, Little Miss Sunshine: having lost the beauty pageant and the grandpa (dead) to boot, what did they accomplish? The triumph of a dysfunctional family pulling through instead of concentrating on their own selfish crap. Now, the stories I’m personally writing are much more traditionally dramatic, with an Big Evil to fight against and Lesser Bad Things on the way. And my imagination furnishes no lack of those. But it’s always been that subtle sense of inner transformation that’s eluded me in these epic, sprawling stories (I can nail that transformation well in short stories). In addition, character growth in a YA story is often – beat me here and yes, it’s a generalization – less nuanced than in grown up stories; by which I mean, since it is by definition a time of growth and searching for identity, typical character growth revolves around these themes (in a gazillion different ways of course). Whereas, adults aren’t usually portrayed as consciously searching for identity. So, I hope that’s helpful… PS. updates on novel? Still stuck at Chapter 17 and now feeling like I need to rethink the whole dam ending. Only about 5 chapters but pivotal. Ugh!