Truth: No one’s going to care about a story unless a goodly amount of their brain is sparkin’ along with you – invested, your willing captive for a few days or a few hours. Engaging a reader, or a viewer, requires authenticity on many levels, especially when it comes to characterization.
I recently broke down and watched the most recent Star Wars movie, episode III. I’d been so disappointed with episodes I and II that I almost let it slide. I’m glad I didn’t. I nearly couldn’t breathe during the last 30 minutes of the film for the glee filling my lungs. Lucas had finally managed to tie everything together authentically.
Why would a good boy who’d grown into a good man suddenly turn into a monster?
Oh, yeah: manipulation + intense fear + rejection + betrayal (x 3) + near-death + mutilation + soul-searing loss = gynormous character change.
We all know it–whether we’ve actually spent time thinking about it or just recognize it instinctively: Life events trigger change. And the bigger the life event, the bigger the knee-jerk reaction (which can kick off a variety of unpleasant scenarios), the bigger the readjustments to a new reality, the bigger the possible change in personality and overall character. We’ve seen this sad stuff first hand. A father loses his 3-year-old son in a fire and remains bitter for the rest of his days. An adolescent girl’s father runs off with her mother’s best friend, and she spends the rest of her life sleeping around, unable to hold a relationship together.
Need a character to pull a 180 on you? Screw with their lives. External turmoil = authentic character change. (Aren’t you glad you’re not paying for your character’s therapy sessions?)
p.s. If you haven’t seen the 3rd Star Wars, rent it. It really is admirable the way Lucas pulls everything together. And if you’re sick to death of hearing about Sci-Fi flicks, you’ll be glad to know that I’m going to tackle the brilliant authenticity in the romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally” next! Until then, keep it real! :)