|Evolution - Scientific theory, but a writing fact|
Don't get me wrong - there are some very good books out there that start off as apparently a series of unrelated stories about people just going about their business. But as we read these books, we discover that these characters have purposes, they have missions and they follow a common theme. The reader becomes attached to each story because there is something to connect to. A bunch of stories without some common chord just sounds like noise. As writers, we learn to rise above that.
In my previous post, "To Fiction or Not to Fiction," I hinted at some of the exploits of my peers back in high school. As individual short stories, they were very fun to relive and commit to the page. I am sure anyone would pick up one of those 2,000-word stories, read it, and find it amusing. And if I put forty of them together in an anthology, I am sure that plenty of my peers would pick up a copy just to read about how I interpreted those adventures. The average reader, however, is a different creature. And that creature needs to be won over by the story itself.
The average reader likely never lived at the far south end of the Chicago suburbs, did not go to my high school, and would not know my classmates from Adam. So what would attract them to the book? Well, good writing helps, but without some kind of story, theme, or evolution of the characters, the average reader will find it an amusing distraction at best, but is unlikely to buy a copy. They might borrow a copy to read about that one classmate with the third testicle, but they will set it aside afterward and the book is soon forgotten.
Now let's take that same set of stories and frame it differently. Let's have the 25th reunion of the Class of 1985. We can now offer these stories of childhood misbehavior with a contrast to who these people became. That one kid who took a joy ride in a cop car? He's now a Chicago police officer. The wild kid who had a hand in most every large-scale prank? He owns a B&B in Napa Valley (and lost that third testicle in a fight in 1989). The little runt who kept to himself but quietly was involved in many memorable incidents? Now he has a writing blog. These little stories now cover a 25-year arc, and the characters grow from A to B. And the reader travels with them
The story and the character's evolution are always important. On the next post, we will cover the other side of the coin - finding the right character to fit into the story.