The other day I watched “Romancing the Stone” (1984) with Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas for the umpteenth time. It’s one of my favorite movies. It’s got lots of action and adventure, a little mystery, romance, and my favorite – humor.
I’ve read several posts about character growth in mystery series, and this particular movie is a shining example of growing and changing.
Joan Wilder starts out as a shy and introverted best-selling romance writer, who quickly becomes involved in traveling to Columbia to rescue her sister. Elaine has been kidnapped and she’s being held for ransom in the form of a treasure map that her murdered husband sent to Joan for safekeeping.
When a sinister stranger, who also wants the map, makes sure she ends up on the wrong bus, heading in the wrong direction, Jack T. Colton comes to the rescue, and a romance blooms.
But that’s enough about the story. My point is, Joan is placed in situations that she has no control over and she begins to grow and learn more about life and herself. She discovers that she can deal with adversity. She does what she has to do to survive. Thankfully, Jack is there to help, but he’s not a super hero. He makes mistakes along the way, just as a real man might. He seems to be overly interested in that treasure map, too.
By the end of the movie, this shy and introverted romance writer becomes confident and outgoing. This is what the characters in our books need to do, too. In a series, you can drag it out a little, but in a standalone book, you’ve got to make it happen before The End makes an appearance.
Sometimes what we’ve faced in our everyday lives, or in the lives of someone we know, can work in a story. It can be as simple as meeting someone who takes an instant dislike to you, or it can be something as disastrous as a mugging, or worse.
Let’s say you’ve gone to the bank on payday with a friend. As you’re leaving the bank your friend is grabbed and thrown to the ground while her attacker is yelling something about the FBI, but said attacker is actually going for her purse. They’re struggling on the ground, your friend hanging on tightly to her new purse. Mugger or no mugger, she’s not letting go of her wonderful new leather purse.
What would you do?
Confession: This happened to me and a friend many years ago. After hesitating briefly, I knew what I had to do. I’ve always been known for carrying large purses – make that huge. I raised it in the air, ready to slam it down on the perpetrator’s head. He glanced up just in time to see what I was doing. I guess the purse was scarier than he was because he jumped up and ran to his car, laying rubber when he pulled out of the parking lot. He left behind a fake badge and pager. Fingerprints? Yes. And I got the license number of the car he was driving. No, I wasn’t actually a heroine. I was a mighty scared woman with a big purse.
Side Note: I didn’t realize I’d been yelling until several firemen from a firehouse around the corner came running. Ah, one of life’s little rewards. Two single young women and a hoard of firemen. But I digress.
I used this instance, with a few changes, in one of my books. Yes, in real life this incident caused my friend and me to change our habits. You wouldn’t think that would have made changes in our lives that would last throughout the years, but it did.
When writing, think about how a single instance might have changed your life or the life of a relative or friend, and how it made you grow. Put this knowledge to work as you write.
That’s it. That’s all I have to say this week. If you haven’t seen "Romancing the Stone", I hope you’ll take the time to watch it.
Until next time, think about actions and reactions you’ve seen and put them to work. Learn a lesson from them.
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