My Growth Arc: One Big Ol’ Mess (Mary Strand)
This month at YA Outside the Lines we’re talking about character growth arcs (which are, basically, the way characters in a book or movie change in the course of the story in order to become whatever they’re meant to be, or need to be). Or, if we prefer, we can instead blog about our “growth arc” as a writer: how we’ve changed over the years, ALSO presumably in order to become whatever we were meant to be, or need to be.
I don’t like to analyze my characters or their growth arcs too deeply in front of other people, so you’re stuck with my growth arc as a writer. Lucky you!
(Note: I would rather talk about the album I’m currently recording.)
It occurs to me that a writer’s growth arc is not AT ALL like a growth arc for a fictional character, because fictional characters basically go from a mildly screwed-up person with potential to a fairly evolved person, who isn’t perfect but deserves a happy ending.
A writer, in contrast, is a somewhat screwed-up person ALL THE TIME, and as far as I can tell, that never changes. That’s not necessarily good news for us personally, sure, but it’s good news for the stories we write.
Writers have to delve into characters and really FEEL them, deep inside, so we can describe what it’s like to be anyone from a little kid like Ramona the Pest to Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles to Iron Man to Elizabeth Bennet to Hannibal Lecter. And so on. I think that requirement makes us a bit of a mess. Yes, most of us gravitate to the same genres over and over, with presumably the same TYPES of characters, but every character is different.
My Bennet Sisters YA series, about a modern-day version of Jane Austen’s famous Bennet family, had the same basic group of characters, but each book was written entirely in one Bennet sister’s point of view, and the sisters were all totally different. I frankly couldn’t identify with someone like Kitty (or Cat in my books), so I couldn’t FEEL how she might feel ... until I gave her a few traits and adventures that I did understand, like a love of art, and road trips, and the waterparks at Wisconsin Dells. Finally, after a mighty struggle, I could write about how she felt.
to my own growth arc: all I can say is that I’m continually changing, including
in what matters to me and what I’m willing to do, but I wouldn’t call it an arc.
The pandemic made me even more screwed up (as a writer) than I started out. As we
come out of that, I find that I’ve changed in the sense that I don’t need to
write in a particular way: while hanging out at Sebastian Joe’s, eating
triple-berry scones, which I did for YEARS. I just need to get the job done. It’s
more streamlined as a result.
But I’m still screwed up: I’m an extrovert in a writing world filled with introverts. Right now, for instance, I actually need to go into some form of the “writing cave” that writers often talk about, in order to write like the wind and churn out a first draft, but writing caves are lonely places, and I need to be around PEOPLE and have ADVENTURES and listen to and play MUSIC. For most writers, that is CRAZY, because at some level writers need to live inside their own head in order to write a book. Even I do. But, being me, I tend to go AWOL from my own head ALL THE TIME.
So, yeah. In the fundamentals, I’ll probably always be a mildly screwed-up writer with potential. But, like the characters in the books I write, I think I still deserve a happy ending.
Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.