Lots of stories – fiction and nonfiction – have characters who undergo some sort of change. Like in real life, characters don’t normally experience something and punch through on the other side completely unaffected. Those experiences (basically the plot of your story) is what alters their way of looking at themselves and the world around them.
In a writer’s perfect world, the character’s evolution and plot resolution come together like the Rescue Beagles and margaritas. But there are times when stories become unbalanced, and one overtakes the other. When this happens, it’s because the literary ignition switch is in the OFF position.
Sure sure, I see you scratching your head and cursing me for being confusing – so let me offer an example. I recently read a story about a man who lost his father and decides to go on a surfing Walkabout. Totally get that…when something horrible happens, escaping the confines of the everyday can be an attractive solution. The problem was that the author spent most of his time in his own head with long lyrical and esoteric passages of talking to nature and the waves, asking for answers – but he never fully developed the relationship between him and his father – his humor, his wisdom, his love for his son, and sadness knowing he was dying. The result was that I couldn’t appreciate the author’s sense of loss; the achingly long narratives; or the journey itself. In fact, there was very little attention paid to the actual physicality of the surf Walkabout, so he could have easily stayed home and knit toilet paper doilies, replacing the surf and sand for knitting needles.
In this case, the key wasn’t even in the ignition, and the action was AWOL.
If you’re going to take some sort of action (walkabout, live on a boat, join the Hari Krishnas/join a group of space trash collectors) due to an igniting experience (divorce/death/threat to world peace/alien invasion), then it’s vital readers understand how influential the ignition and action are in altering you/your character’s life.
When writers strike a perfect balance between cause and effect/affect – ignition/action, then I can happily follow them into the depths of hell because I get it. I feel what they’re going through, so I’m silently sobbing/cheering them on to find their happy place, and I appreciate the lengths they went through (walkabout, live on a boat, join the Hari Krishnas/join a group of space trash collectors) to find equanimity. It’s impossible to have one without the other. Write without the ignition in the ON position, and your readers will toss your book against a wall.
How about your story? Is your literary ignition is on? If so, how? Is your character’s inner journey in balance with the plot?