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    Transform Your Character in One Day

    Previously, this column discussed how to write a "one-day short story" (a story that transpires within 24 hours) and satisfy readers with a resolution or conclusion that is justified by the circumstances in the story.

    This time, we will look into ways of effectively transforming characters, both protagonists and antagonists, without giving readers the impression that the whole transformation was either a miracle or was magic-bound. That is our task as story writers, relating life stories to readers in the most realistic way possible. (Of course, the rules are rather different if we are writing fairy tales and such.)

    We often hear people saying something like, "One day I just woke up and realized things have changed." But of course we shouldn't take this literally. We don't just wake up and realize something! We live through a moment and discover something (and at first, we will even fail to notice the hint of change but indeed, it has happened).

    The transformation shouldn’t be too general as from-good-to-bad or vice versa. It would be more interesting to show more specific changes than give general implications. For instance, you may give hints on how a cheating husband decided to settle with his wife and forget his other affairs; how a coward beau learned to gather his guts and take risks; or, how a totally miserable old man learned to enjoy life again. Can these transformations take place in less than 24 hours? Yes.

    Look around you. Find a person whom you’d like to transform emotionally or spiritually, even only in your imagination, and write about how you think he could forget about his old ways, in just one day.

    Here are some basic tips on writing your "transformation in a day" story:

    1. Don’t tell all, let them talk. It is understandable that you would want to describe your characters in a narrative since giving them dialogues could make you run out of space, so to speak. However, for a more delicious read, you ought to properly combine or balance your narrative with your character’s remarks, quips and sentiments, such that your readers would feel that they have "met" or "heard" your characters before.

    2. Expose the flaws early. Reveal the weaknesses of your character early in the story. Remember, you will show how your protagonist would overcome his flaws and be transformed in the process. While you do this, make certain your pacing is not too slow or too fast.

    3. Introduce a turning point. What will be the major turning point in your character's life? These turning points can be one major triumphant moment or one big, mind-blowing tragedy. It can be very complicated, just as it can be very ordinary. But it will definitely change the character in your story.

      From where will the chain of changes begin? After witnessing a woman who untimely gave birth on a public place? After a near-death accident? After a political downfall or a twist of from riches to rags? Focus here and make sure the preceding and succeeding events would smoothly stick with your turning point and leave a feeling to your readers that, indeed, such things may happen and could result in character-behavior transformation.

    4. Let there be angels. Let's call them angels: they can be your character's parents, friends, long lost friend or even stangers. They would touch your character’s life and influence your character's manner of thinking and seeing through things. Think of the stranger in the bus who suddenly brought up a conversation with the person next to him, and they talked about family and how he missed his children. Subsequently the other person would talk about his fear of getting married or starting a family. Let the angel explain his thoughts but be careful this won’t be done in such a preachy way. Instead, give the angels soft but meaningful punchlines that could enrich the story even more.

    5. Allow time for transition. You cannot rush the changes. You don’t have to. Instead, put your character through quiet thinking moments and some more moments of realizations. Then gracefully lead your readers to the conclusion of your story.


    To sum it all up, it is important to make sure your readers can easily identify with your protagonist. Make it easy for them to sympathize with your main character during his trying moments in your story. Gracefully spill the motives behind his actions and be consistent with his way of speaking.

    Finally, be careful not to change your character abruptly and without sufficient justification because your readers will notice it and would even think you changed your character in a rather "magical" way, with the wave of an imaginary wand. Focus on the process, turning point or emotions your character has to go through.

    Copyright © 2003 Arlene M. Paredes

    Arlene M. Paredes writes short stories, features and essays. Her first nonfiction book will be released this year. She maintains an online journal as a form of writing exercise. You may contact her at lhen@postmark.net.

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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