The Ruts Into Which We Fall

Like a lot of people, I’m a creature of habit. While I love new places and new experiences, there is also something truly comfortable about doing the same thing, and going the same places, every day. No, that doesn’t make sense for someone who craves travel and new experiences…and it doesn’t have to. It’s my life, I can be as inconsistent and silly as I want.

Even up here – even in the midst of all of this variety – there can come those ruts. I was out for my solo hike on Monday. In order to get to the specific mountain I wanted to climb, I had to take a trail I’ve walked 3-4 times already. I didn’t realize until I was almost all the way to the start of my “real” hike, but I had ignored the entire trail behind me.

It had become old-hat for me, something in the “been there, done that” category. It had become a rut. Not a single picture taken…not even a moment to pause and savor the view out over the alpine meadows. Not a moment to just sit by a stream and contemplate.

That’s dangerous: if living in Yellowstone can become like that, what other parts of life are at risk?

Writing, for one.

We’ve all read those stories, and those series, where nothing really changes. Oh, the locations change, as do the details, but the heart of it all? That stays the same: the characters think the same, act the same. The problems and challenges arise the same way, are solved the same way. You could almost open to any chapter at random and know what is going to happen.

It’s easier than you think to fall into that. The ease of doing the same thing over and over – and, yes, the insanity of it (thanks, Einstein!) – is all too alluring. Plots and challenges and locations have to change, have to have variety and originality, if the story is not to be one big rut.

Even more, however, do characters have to change. We writers often refer to that change as growth, but that is nothing more than a conceit. It’s nice if our protagonists and major characters can grow – learn wisdom and care and all that – but in no way is it required.

Oh no, that change can just as easily be negative: the businessman who turns to violent vigilantism, the bank teller who turns to theft, the housewife who becomes a prostitute. None of those are “growth”, but all can make for interesting stories. Actually, all have. I’ll leave you to figure out the allusions.

Okay, so why the the topic of ruts?

My main character isn’t changing as much as I’d like…and I realize just how much that is my fault. Sometimes a character just can’t change, but Connor most certainly can. Hell, the changes in him over the first book are why he is still alive while Oz is dead. But my writing of him has fallen into a rut: he’s the same kid he was a year ago, and no one could go through those events, let alone a year in prison, and be the same person. No one.

The biggest problem is that I look on Connor almost like…well, almost like a parent. And like most parents, I still see the kid he used to be rather than the man he is. That is a failing in the writer – in the parent, if you will – and not in the character himself. Now I just need to fix it.

Douglas Adams used to joke that if you’re having trouble coming up with interesting characters, change your brand of coffee. Well, I’m having trouble realizing and capturing the changes and growth in my main character…I think I need to change my brand of beer…

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