When A Character Morphs
The protagonist in my WIP just morphed. When I started writing her, she was one way and now suddenly she's another. (With the demands of launching my novel, I haven't had the time to actually put these changes into effect, but I've taken lots of notes. And I think about it all the time.) It's a subtle but important change and it makes a big difference in how she views the world and reacts to the people around her.
This also happened while I was writing Emma Jean. In that novel, there's a character named Ava who's a young whippersnapper of a middle-schooler–sassy, smart, and slightly scarred. She's one of my favorite characters in the book. Yet she started out as a shy 5-year-old with little personality. I well remember the night I went to my critique group and someone gently asked me if it was really necessary for the 5-year-old Ava to be in the story. The next day, I boarded a plane to L.A., and as I did, the current Ava sprang to full, glorious life. This version of her was the character who was meant to be–I just hadn't discovered her yet.
And so, too, with Jemima–while I know a lot about the externals of her life and what happened to her I don't yet know her inner landscape or her full backstory. I also don't feel I've yet discovered her full voice. So this recent change is welcome. It tells me I'm getting closer to her, that I'm starting to know her better and it reassures me that the rest will come in due time.
But how do you actually deal with it when a character morphs like this? Here are some suggestions:
–Don't panic. Usually when it happens, it's a good thing. Yes, there will be unexpected rewriting and changing things around. But it's going to make your novel a richer, deeper book, because it's a sign that you understand your character at a new level.
–Take good notes. Lots of them. This is a good time for free writing to get a handle on the new shape of the character.
–Write in "as if" form. If you're in first draft mode, keep moving on. Don't stop to rewrite everything that has changed because of the character morphing. Instead, write as if the character changes have already been made. This works most of the time, though once in awhile the changes are so profound that you have to go back. Just don't get mired in rewriting!
–Unpack your story. Once you've finished the first draft and it's time to make the character changes, you've got to make room for them. The common metaphor for this is unpacking, emptying a space to put in new stuff. Go paragraph by paragraph and pull them apart to insert new material.
–Take heart. You may be dismayed by the character changes that appear to you, especially if they are big ones. You may be tempted to ignore these ideas. But don't–that pisses the muse off. And besides, these are the very ideas that will make your novel the story you want it to be.
How have you dealt with a character morphing? Please leave a comment.