Remember those toy aliens that came out a long time ago, dehydrated sponges that grew several times their starting size when placed in water? I had the interesting fortune to run across one a few months ago. So I followed the instructions, more for my own amusement than anything else. Sure enough, within four days, the green sponge alien was nearly ten inches tall. It was supposed to take up to two weeks for him to return to his original size, but in the dry atmosphere I placed him in, he soon shriveled up to even smaller than he started out. I wondered what would happen if he was placed in a bottle with a limited amount of water. He’s expanded to fill most of the bottle, but has stayed the same size ever since. I had expected a bit more of an increase, he’s about a third of the size he once was. Perhaps the limitations of this particular character have been reached, once he was ‘bottled up.’
Which brings us to fictional aliens and other characters. They seem more interesting and believable to the reader if you allow them to grow in some direction, whether it’s maturing, learning to see another point of view, or overcoming obstacles in their life. As someone once said, the flying pigs in your story should still go, ‘oink.’ Unless they’re talking pigs, in which case either you’re writing for children, or you may want to visit your friendly neighborhood psychiatrist. Either way, it’s better they either talk or make animal noises, since an author should strive to not confuse the reader. Escaping the dinner table comes to mind as an obvious challenge for your fictional pig (perhaps that’s why he wants wings, which is motivation!)
Then again, perhaps like me, you’re allergic to pork products. This makes shopping my own personal challenge. Has my own character/personality grown because of it? Perhaps. I choose to ‘live dangerously,’ which means I have the occasional bout with anaphalactic shock. Fortunately, I play two wind instruments, and have conscious control of my airways. It’s still four hours of agony, followed by several days of ‘coping,’ and a determined effort to not let it change my outlook on things. Why should it? It’s temporary.
When you have a character who encounters difficulty or illness, you should think about whether it’s in keeping with his or her personality to change from the experience, and how. You may have some very astute readers who are ‘keeping score’ to see if they find your characters believable. The better the story you have, the more important this is. I was disappointed in a movie about a paranoid man when there was a shower scene with his naked backside facing the camera. It was gratuitous nudity, since someone who constantly thinks, ‘they’re out to get me,’ would never take a shower facing the wall. Of course, the producers couldn’t do a nude frontal scene without getting a harsher rating than they wanted. And if they’d only filmed him from the waist up, they wouldn’t have gotten the ‘adult’ rating they wanted. You may be able to get away with that on television, but authors should avoid the mistake of having a character step out-of-character. Such fertilizer might just turn off the reader.
Other things can cause a character to ‘grow.’ Mental illness, excessive stress, a personal betrayal. Has the individual ‘let herself go?’ Why? What brought the character to that point is often as interesting as the condition itself. You might feel explaining it is nothing but fertilizer, but sometimes fertilizer is required.
A word of caution: while you want your character to grow, be cautious about too much ‘personal growth.’ In real life, such growth happens in fits and starts, or over time. Unless you’re writing a tome, or such growth is the story, it’s best to limit dwelling on it. Try not to leave it exposed (the purpose of fertilizer is to decay, after all) and allow other things to arise out of it. Even aliens should have a goal, challenges, and personal growth.
Thanks for reading. 🙂
Phyllis K Twombly