Internal and External Change in Writing - OryCon 33


My notes from a panel discussion on internal character change and external change in novels at OryCon 33.

Internal and External Change
Mary Roseblum/Mary Freeman, Dianna Rodgers, Ken Scholes, Mark J. Ferrari, Andrew S. Fuller
OryCon 33
  • Introduction
    • Ken Scholes, writer of short stories and novels. Has a five book series with Tor, three books are out. Writing since high school, with a long break. 10th OryCon.
      • I want my character to change or be changed. Sometimes the change happens in the reader: a revelation about the character can create a change in perspective in the reader. Result of Kate Whilhelm workshop. She has a book on writing.
    • Dianna Rodgers
      • All people, characters or not, are struggling with the question of to change or not to change. Most of the time there is a contract with the reader, expecting some kind of change. But sometimes you can also bring people right up to the brink of change, and then have them decide not to.
    • Mark Ferrari, illustrator. Recently discovered that while a picture may be worth a thousand words, a thousand words pays more and is easier to produce. Recently published first book. Many time OryCon attendee.  
      • If you read a whole story, and nobody learned anything or had anything happen to them, it’s not even a story.
    • Andrew Fuller, writes primarily short fiction.  
      • There has to be conflict, of course. The times I enjoy writing is when it feels like I am just reading it and discovering as I go. That happens in the time of change.
    • Mary Rosenblum, primarily a character writer.
      • In character driven work, you are looking for depth of character, and that only comes from both internal and external change.
      • But in some genre of stories: military SF, action SF, detective story you can be carried along just on the external action. They still lack depth, but the action carries them along.
  • In Star Trek episodes, the world remains the same, the characters remain the same from episode to episode, but within an episode characters learn something, and action happens.
    • But characters still develop over time. Spock becomes more human, develops a friendship with Kirk. In Voyager, Paris changes from very angry to more comfortable in his skin.
  • Why is internal change so important?
    • It’s an important of the human experience.
    • Many people have difficulty changing themselves. So it can be a sense of success and satisfaction to feel the character change. 
    • All people want to change something about themselves or the people around them or the world.
  • If your character doesn’t seem to learn things, to change, they aren’t going to seem human.
  • It matters HOW they change.
    • You want to keep people guessing about who will prevail. But there is a presumption that the protagonist will prevail. The ultimate outcome is kind of presumed. 
    • So the real tension and excitement comes from HOW they will succeed, how they will prevail, how they will acquire what they need. 
  • All of this assumes that if characters are going to improve, then they can’t be perfect to begin. They must be flawed.
    • George R.R. Martin’s game of thrones series is filled with wonderfully flawed characters.
  • So much of fiction is based on change
    • the external circumstances force internal change
  • You can’t just say “It’s been done” because something has the same plot. The story depends on the characters followed and the changes they go through. 
    • H.G.Wells war of the worlds was totally different than the later treatment in which the focus is on a dad and his relationship with his children, and how he rises of being a shitty dad. Totally different story, same plot of aliens invade, kick our ass, and die of the common cold.
  • There is a danger in people who are beginning to write in that they try to artificially add the change. It becomes just tacked on. It’s a trap. There author feels it needs to be there, and so they add it, but it is not intrinsic.
    • Things are going well when your characters have enough integrity and depth that they ignore your outline, and make their own decisions.
  • Process - How much of the internal change is in your head when you start?
    • Andrew Fuller - For short fiction, I don’t have an outline. So I just write, and I like to be surprised.
    • Mark Ferrari - I want to know 3 things before I start writing. How the story begins. How the story ends. What’s the story about? Not what happens, but what it’s about: anger? loss? etc.
      • So I pretty much discover everything about my characters on the way.
      • I make some outlines as I go just I don’t forget things.
      • But from one sentence to the next, I don’t know what my characters are going to say.
      • But if whatever is happening - if it doesn’t have to do with what the story is about, then then it has to get scraped out.
      • Great story about his work as an artist: He loved drawing the details. And he’d finished these highly detailed drawing, but you couldn’t get a sense of the theme of the piece. So he’d have to erase the details or color over them so that they would fall into the background, and the primary stuff would come to the surface.
        • [Will: this reminds me of photographs: you want a shallow field of focus to make some stuff fuzzy and some stuff sharp, and that makes an interesting photo.]
  • Q: How do you write the revelatory moments?
    • Ken: it’s a revelation i felt personally, so I can describe because I can feel it.
    • Dianna: it has to be consistent with the internal motivation. It somethings is internal dialogue. Sometimes it’s external. it depends.
    • Mary: It’s the plot, forcing the character to the point where they can’t ignore, they have to deal with it.
    • Mark: the stories I write are all about that moment. i punish my characters until they break. if they can recover from that, the story goes on. if they can’t, then that’s the revelatory moment. there’s no where else to go.
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