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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Character Development in Literary Fiction

     In a detective story, the hero often has no development. Hercule Poirot [Agatha Christie] is pretty much the same from beginning to end of a particular novel; he merely changes in the way he perceives things. Popular action heroes such as James Bond, Dirk Pitt, or Captain Kirk don't develop much either; they are pretty much the same beginning to end, from book to book. [The same is true of Sherlock Holmes.] But in a more serious work of dramatic fiction, the characters do change, often profoundly.

     Scrooge in A Christmas Carol turns from unrepentant miser to generous celebrant; Charles Allnut in The African Queen changes from a drunken sot to a responsible husband. Fred C. Dobbs in B. Traven's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is changed from a rather likable, down-and-out tramp to a greedy paranoiac by his lust for gold.

     Well-plotted, serious dramatic fiction is transformational by its very nature. The vicarious experience of this transformation is the most important reason people read serious fiction. A plot isn't just a matter of one thing happening after another; it's the progress toward the resolution of a predicament that transforms the character.

James N. Frey in Novel Writing, 2002 edited by Meg Leder and Jack Heffron 

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