Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Interview with The Creative Penn

I was recently privileged to spend some time with Joanna Penn - an author who has taken full advantage of new media to provide some of the best known author support resources on the internet.

She interviewed me one sunny day in London and then edited my ramblings very kindly to make me sound like I know what I'm talking about.

Below I have added a couple of points that aren't as clear as they could be in the video, but first, here's the video:

To add a couple of points to my answers, one of the finest ways a series writer (like John Sullivan - Only Fools and Horses or Lee Child - the Jack Reacher series) incorporates character growth into the story without his protagonist growing out of any chance of a sequel is not only to have a secondary character change and learn and grow instead of the protagonist. One of the best techniques for keeping your main character unchanged is to have him win through to the opportunity to change and grow and then turn it down. Jack Reacher does this a lot, actually, and I forgot to mention it. As part of his crime-busting adventures he might, for example, meet a wonderful woman and having become a hero in the town he could easily settle down there and become a family man with the keys to the city... but he isn't ready for that. He is still brooding and troubled, and (usually at dead of night) tears himself sadly away, slips out of town and disappears for ever... All ready to rock up in another troublespot to fight crime and climb the character growth ladder from a good low starting position all over again in the next book.

Many great stories either have a secondary character doing the changing and the growing (Marty's dad, in Back to the Future) or the lead character is offered the chance to change and grow (to the point that we in the audience recognise the opportunity) but for some reason - such as Jack Reacher's ongoing search for himself - does not take that opportunity (Robert Neville in I Am Legend has to kill himself to realise the benefit to humanity of the journey he has taken).

This is really important - the most powerful stories have a character change and grow across the telling of the story, and yet the reason sequels often fail to grip is because the protagonist has already made his life-defining journey - his character has grown. In my opinion, my first book (Ocean Boulevard) is the most powerful, because it describes a journey from a boy to a man; life defining character growth. Whilst the second book (Jumping Ships) is very funny and appears pretty popular, it's not as good as Ocean Boulevard because the protagonist (me!) can't go from a boy to a man more than once. After that, it is 'adventures of a man', and the character growth is limited.

So be careful with character growth. It's the most powerful story component... but the character, once fulfilled, won't be able to make the same growth again.