During the holiday season, many of us saw at least one version of A Christmas Carol or The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Both Ebenezer Scrooge and the Grinch start and end their stories in very different emotional places. They begin cold, bitter, and cut off from their fellow beings. By the end of their adventures, despite all their efforts to forge ahead as bah-humbugging misers and misery mongers, they experience a change of heart. They discover relationships matter more than things. They are dynamic.
Scrooge? The Grinch?
Here’s the thing: Dynamic does not mean lively, charismatic or even likable. A Dynamic Character is one who evolves during the course of the story in a significant way: a change of heart, a change of values, or a change in entire thought paradigms.
The opposite is called a Static Character. A static character is predictable and steady. This does not mean he has to be boring. Most sit-com characters are static. They behave with the same general motives in every episode. But it is a rare author who can wrap a whole story around such a character and mold it into anything deep. There is no real arc or evolution. There may be action and excitement, but the outcomes as they affect each individual are predictable and formulaic.
Why does this matter to writers of tween fiction (or any writers, for that matter)? Tweens and teens are coming of age. They are evolving and becoming bigger and better than they were. They are, by nature, dynamic. That may be why so many adults enjoy fiction targeted for this younger age: even us “old” folks recognize and empathize with the theme of growing up and being more.
In the course of any really good novel, a lead character should reach a turning point when he or she abandons the reality of a prior mindset and embraces a new outlook. Sometimes the change is subtle, unseen even to the character himself. In those cases, the actions take a while to follow the new course of thought, but by the end of the story, the audience feels it. Some famous tween slow changers who pack a punch by the final curtain are Huckleberry Finn, Bean (Ender’s Shadow series) and Scout Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird). All three of these people change their opinions of others and of themselves, and they move forward with those new interpretations.
Dynamic characters don’t always lead to a happy ending, but they consistently lead readers to a level of mental or emotional catharsis and self-discovery.
To go deeper, the author must ask, “Whose story is this?” It isn’t always obvious. I have started reading (and even writing) some stories convinced that I was supposed to be watching Character A, when in fact it was Character D that proved the one to grow.
Look at what you’re writing now. Who is the character you care most about? Why? Will she be the same at the end of the story as she is now? Will she be someone even more worth knowing and caring about?
That’s what every story needs.