If you use anecdotes in your nonfiction, the main character of each story should undergo a change to show the reader what happens when someone follows the advice in your book. The reader needs to understand the change that occurred so that they feel the desire to make the same kind of change in their own lives.
Here are four tips to help you convey character changes to your readers briefly and effectively:
1. State the change directly.
Your job here is way easier than the job of fiction writers. Whereas characters in a novel need to show the reader the change they’ve undergone, people in informational nonfiction books can simply tell the information directly to the reader, e.g. “My life is better now because I feel less stressed and get more done each day.”
2. Provide evidence.
Don’t just say, “Bob did better at work after following this advice.” Be specific, e.g. “Bob achieved 14 percent higher performance scores” or “Bob doubled his client base” or “Bob resolved the conflict with his boss.”
3. Be honest.
If you exaggerate the effectiveness of your advice, people will notice. So don’t do that.
4. Use emotion.
Positive life changes produce positive emotions. Describe the internal changes of your characters as well as the external. Lower stress, higher energy levels, and greater enjoyment of life are all valid resolutions to a character’s journey.
How are you using characters in your nonfiction book? Leave a comment and share your own strategies!
*This Week’s Word Count*
Your book is as long as: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
If your characters don’t change over the course of your book, there is no reason for them to experience the events of the book in the first place. Character development means that your characters develop during the story – they learn, grow, and change. You need to show those changes to the reader in an understandable way, but without beating them over the head and screaming, “Look at these character arcs! LOOK AT THEM!”
This is hard.
Each character arc will resolve differently, so there’s no universal way to do this. You will probably need to revise your character arcs several times before you settle on a happy medium between blunt and subtle. For your first draft, you can use these strategies to show the changes in your characters in a clear, yet artful way.
1. Actions speak louder than words.
Was your character a jerk, and now they’re not? Great. Instead of having someone notice this and comment on it, show the character doing something kind where they previously would have done something mean.
2. Actions work best when incorporated into the plot.
The actions mentioned above should be an integral part of the plot. If you take time out of the story so that your previously jerk-ish character can carry someone’s groceries to their car, readers will think, “Oh. This is the scene where we see that so-and-so changed.” You don’t want to draw attention to your authorial choices, so try to blend the character arcs seamlessly into the main story.
3. Use emotion.
A character’s feelings about how they’ve changed can often convey the change without directly stating it. If you do have a “look how far we’ve come” conversation, use emotion rather than blunt description.
4. Share the arcs amongst the characters.
Your protagonist should undergo a change. So should your other main characters. So should your villain, if possible. The more characters you let develop during your story, the more real and three-dimensional the story will feel.
5. Keep the changes believable.
Real people don’t change from one extreme to another in a short period of time. Your characters shouldn’t either. Instead of having a character lose their explosive temper and become a mild-mannered saint in a couple of weeks, try for something a little less drastic. Big changes are lifelong projects, so if you want to show one of those, it should take a long time and come with a plethora of setbacks and screw-ups.
6. Be realistic in your expectations of the reader.
No matter how well you write a character arc, your readers won’t fall in love with the antihero if he started the book by murdering an innocent family. You can write characters of questionable morality, and they often turn into fascinating people, but be careful what you show the reader if you want them to feel a certain way toward the character. Some actions will make a character utterly irredeemable in the reader’s eyes. Yes, even if the character feels really, really bad about it later.
7. Weave the arc through the whole story.
Touch on your characters’ development from time to time throughout the whole book. Each plot point is an opportunity for the characters to change slightly. Use those plot points to integrate your character development into your story as a whole.
How do you show character development? Share your strategies and struggles in the comments!
*This Week’s Word Count*
Your book is as long as: The Color Purple by Alice Walker