Saturday, December 11, 2010

Growth and Development....a la Rose Hathaway

Richelle Mead’s sixth and final book in her Vampire Academy series came out this week. I got my hands on a copy of Last Sacrifice on Thursday and tore through the latest chapter in this saga – finally finishing while curled up on the couch this afternoon with a down blanket and a hot chocolate for company. (Rose has a weakness for sour cream and onion potato chips and candy bars…I thought the hot chocolate was a fitting tribute.)

You know how a traditional story arc and character development “rules” say that the main character (well, heck…all characters, I guess) should change throughout the story? They should show growth, learn from their experiences, and in the case of YA fiction – perhaps even grow up a bit on the inside as well as on the outside during their adventures?

It is hard to do! At least I think it is. Often, I find myself knowing more about how I want my character to act – who I want them to be – at the end of the story. Backtracking to allow for that change and growth is just darned difficult. I think we tend to grow and change at an alarmingly slow pace as real live people compared to the accelerated development of a character written on the page. It takes 10 years (give or take a few) for a child to grow through adolescence into adulthood. But your MC…Well, he or she has to cast off childish things in 300 pages or so.

Granted, your MC isn’t going to tackle everything real humans do…BUT she needs to have problems and lessons that are realistic enough that your readers will connect with her. Her issues, her growth need to be believable. In a word: honest.

Enter Rose Hathaway. Of all the young women in YA lit today, I’d most like to braid hair and pain nails with Rose. She’s sort of my hero. Or maybe Ms. Mead is really the one I want to hang out with…Either way – popping popcorn and bonding with either of them sounds like it would help my writing career along!

If you’ve read the Vampire Academy series, I’d love to hear what you think of Rose (and Lissa, Adrian, Dimitri, and the others) as characters. And if you haven’t read Ms. Mead’s contribution to modern vampire lore – then I’d suggest that you can read them with a writing lesson in mind: Character development.

Rose begins the series as a child. An impetuous, bold, leap-before-she-looks girl. I don’t want to give away any points of the story, and Ms. Mead’s work can certainly speak for itself, but I will tell you that Rose transforms throughout the series. She is a different character in Last Sacrifice than she was in the beginning (Vampire Academy).  She grows, develops, changes – from student to warrior, from girl to woman, from idealist to realist. Her character is honest in her growth. She makes mistakes. She slides backwards and then has to run twice as hard to make up for lost time. She tries to protect everyone around her, and forgets to save some protection for herself. And in the end, she is different. She’s still Rose – but in a way that lets Rose the woman shine.

Not only is she a great example of character development and growth – but she’s a strong girl, a beautiful character, and something many readers might find unexpected in a story about a school for vampires: she is a role model.

So girls: Be strong. Be warriors. Be lovers (eventually). Grow up – but make mistakes along the way.

And Writers: Be strong. Be warriors. Be lovers (always!). Help your characters to grow up and make their own mistakes along the way.

Go forth and tell stories! We need more strong girls and strong writers in the world today.

(If you'd like to read another Carpe Keyboard post that talks about Rose Hathaway and the Vampire Adacemy, click here.)