"If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude." - Maya Angelou
Like death and taxes, change is inevitable.
It's a tired trope, but that doesn't diminish the reality. Time marches on, whether we want it to or not.
As a kid, my family lived in a small town that was on the cusp of transitioning from mid-century farming community to unabashed, metropolitan suburb. We moved away when I was twelve, but five years later we returned to a town that was similar in name only. Gone were the farms, hardware store, and local deli. In their place were neighborhoods with swanky titles, "big chain" stores, and artisan sandwich shops.
The worst change, however, was the loss of Thelma's. The old gas station where the world's greatest ice cream was hand-made by a woman in her nineties had died along with her. To this day, whenever I pass the plot of land where her store used to stand, I can still taste her black raspberry ice cream. It was all I ever ordered.
But that's life. Change happens. To places and people.
My priorities have certainly changed over the years. Twenty Three Year Old Me might not have cared too much about which Baby Einstein video to buy, but I can promise you that it's a decision I don't take lightly today. Watching my daughter coo and laugh because I chose a "great" one makes the hours of mind-numbing research Young Me would have hated well worth the time invested.
Kids undoubtedly change your world view. In addition to Baby Einstein flicks, I've learned a whole new set of standards for what makes a Friday night special. Oh sure, I still enjoy grabbing a beer with friends, but sitting around on the playmat and watching her figure out basic motor skills is pretty hard to beat. But it's something I would have never imagined in my twenties.
That's the thing about change: it adds flavor to our lives. Texture to our souls. It broadens us, expanding our understanding of the world around us. It exposes us to more of what life has to offer, whether it be artisan sandwiches or a more enjoyable way to spend a Friday evening. It allows us to branch out from always ordering black raspberry to trying, and loving, butter pecan.
But change isn't limited to the real world. Stories, especially franchises, require change in order to remain relevant. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is completely different in tone than The Deathly Hallows. I loved the first novel, but Harry's reader-base was growing up and Harry, Hermione, Ron, Neville, and the rest of the cast needed to grow along with them. They had to face daily teenage struggles as well as life-threatening adventures. To have their world collapse into darkness and for them to weather that crisis, yet emerge from it different than before.
I still enjoy reading The Sorcerer's Stone, but watching the cast mature over the seven books is what gave, and continues to give, the characters more depth. More flavor.
Our own writing deserves that same freedom, the one afforded by allowing our characters to grow. I've read plenty of series where everyone, especially the main character, stagnates. They suffer the same faults, same fears, and same joys book in and book out. It can be felt in a "one-and-done" if a character hasn't learned anything by the end, but in a series, it's painfully repetitive. It's eating black raspberry ice cream.
People learn from their failures as much as they do their successes. Characters who don't, who follow the same pattern in every book, run the risk of becoming monotonous. Flavorless, even. If we're going to keep readers involved and engaged, we have to consider the reality that our characters must adapt to the events in their lives. They need to change. They can fall in love or they can break up. They can become jaded or learn to overcome their cynicism. They can conquer fears or develop new ones. But whatever they do, they absolutely must develop and mature. Otherwise, why bother putting them through the torture of our plots?
Change is often scary because it means stepping away from the comfortable and embracing the new. It's saying goodbye to the town we knew, ordering a scoop of butter pecan, or giving our creations the freedom to progress. But in doing so, whether in life or in writing, we have the opportunity to branch out. We have the privilege of tasting some of the countless flavors that the world has to offer us. In doing so, we allow ourselves to grow and, with any luck, become just a little more comfortable with the inevitable change that will occur in our lives.
Don't our readers deserve the same?
Joshua Roots is a car enthusiast, beekeeper, and storyteller. He enjoys singing with his a cappella chorus, golf, and all facets of Sci-Fi/Fantasy. He's still waiting for his acceptance letter to Hogwarts and Rogue Squadron. He and his wife will talk your ear off about their bees if you let them.
His Urban Fantasy series, The Shifter Chronicles, is available wherever digital books are sold.
He's still misses Thelma and her black raspberry ice cream, but the Great Falls Creamery's version is pretty darn close. You deserve a scoop if you're ever in town....