The complete title of this section is, The Character Shift, as against Movement of Character. The premise, as suggested in the previous section, is that merely demonstrating change in a character is not enough. On some level, for the intended audience, that change also needs to be convincing.
For Hills, however, that distinction is just the starting point:
One way of detecting the difference between the character shift and movement of character is by considering the function the character change performs in the narrative. A character shift usually permits, rather than causes, something to happen.
This may seem a rather banal observation. In fact, I think it’s one of the most useful observations anyone could make about storytelling, and particularly so for people who are new to the craft. Not only does this distinction generally cleave bad writing from good by simple rule, it provides an equally simple test for detecting the problem. Does your character change as a result of what happens, or to facilitate what happens?
Once again, the craft of art imitates life. How often have you had a friend or family member announce they are making a change in their lives for no reason? It goes against human nature to imagine someone suddenly altering course in life without cause. In all likelihood, anyone purporting to make a spontaneous change would be assumed by others to be keeping their real motivation private.
In fiction the premise is the same:
Movement of character is made convincing not only by not being abrupt and startling, but by being prepared for.
I’ll say it again: preparation is the engine of successful storytelling. Subtlety is fine — maybe even preferable — and artistry is always encouraged, but at some point the events you portray must move your characters in convincing fashion. If your characters change to facilitate the events of your story, you’ve got a problem.
Hills closes the section by defining comedy, farce, drama and melodrama relative to movement of character. By consulting his handy road map a writer of any skill will instantly know if they’re creating the work they intend simply by considering how change in characterization functions in their stories. Hills is interested in literary fiction, but if you’re into farce or comedy the road map still works because the relationship between plot, character, preparation and effect is constant.
Yes, the quality of your output will determine you individual success, but all the talent in the world isn’t going to save your stories if your characters are moved by caprice. Or worse, by bald authorial command.
Next up: Slick Fiction, as against Quality Fiction.
— Mark Barrett