As I’m working voraciously down my reading list (there will be no reading time in November!), one of the things I’m noting in many of the books has been the character development—or, in particular, the lack thereof.
Character growth is one of the most important aspects of a story. I would almost argue that it’s the crux of the story itself. Without it, stories read like news articles or encyclopedic entries. They tell what happened, how it happened, and who was involved, but we never fully connect with the featured people. It’s the same in a story. Our interest in what is happening is directly related to our investment in the characters.
There is, however, a serious lack of payoff when the characters in question don’t grow by the end of the book, at least not in a profound or semi-profound way (I’m not a lawyer, so I’ll leave those terms open to interpretation). The main characters (MCs) will endure the most change, while those in the background, due to their general lack of text time, won’t necessarily have as impactful an internal journey—at least that we as readers can see.
This is where I’ve noticed a few of the authors I’ve recently read go wrong. The secondary characters that are integral to the plot sometimes lack personal story arcs. That’s not to say that the author has to know what Erwin Miller, vermin killer’s middle name is, or whether he learned to play Chopin on the piano, or how many cousins he has. The author might need to know these details about the MCs. But if we’re going to see a character at one juncture of the novel and again near the end, affecting the plot, we’ll want to see some measure of change in that character.
For MCs, this is even more important, but one thing I noticed in my reading list is that a lot of established authors writing in the midst of their popular series have left the secondary characters to do most of the “growing.” The main character had his or her full growth arc in book one (and sometimes it carries into book two or three), but then in later books we’re riding on just the plot and the growth of a few new/less central characters.
Overall, character growth is paramount in every reappearing character, and should expand in a parallel ratio with the importance of the character.