As I devoured Skin Game, I noticed that a major theme of this particular installment of Jim Butcher’s the Dresden Files was how characters have changed and grown through the course of the series. The Dresden Files is a huge project. It has fifteenth installments to date and is scheduled to finale somewhere in the mid twenties. One of the biggest challenges I see in managing a series of that size, and one of the aspects that I believe that Butcher handles best, is maintaining continuous and internally consistent characterization.
Though Dresden is the sole viewpoint of the series, Butcher has a cast of rich and well rounded “merry band of adventure enablers” who serve as Dresden’s friends, companions, rivals and enemies. How then, is the reader expected to empathize with a cast of survivors from fifteen books? The key is the reoccurance of a core group. As readers, we can only emotionally bond with a limited number of individuals per book. However, if the character makes an appearance across several volumes, we are given multiple opportunities to bond. This is the first lesson I take from Jim: pick a core group to focus on and give the reader the time and repetition needed to love them.
The second lesson I learned from Dresden was to allow for the controlled passage of time. Typically, approximately one year passes in world between each book. Therefore, we as readers have had the opportunity to watch characters grow up, struggle to overcome their demons and accumulate personal power. Even with the extreme pressures his characters face, time is still an essential factor for meaningful change in a person. Often, both the character and reader need time to come to terms with the new scenario. One of my favorite characters, Molly, is introduced to us as a gawky teenager, and over the course of a dozen books, we have seen her grow into a mature woman and power in her own right.
The final aspect that I believe allows Butcher to manage his character’s growth over the course of so many books is the strong emotional ties they form with each other. Like real people, Butcher’s characters bond through their struggles and will occasionally stage interventions in Dresden’s life and for each other. In fact, many of the tipping point moments of characterization in Skin Games occurred in dialog between characters. As an internal locus for character change, these bonds and conversations serve to characterize both sides of the relationship. It’s a way to get twice the effect for the same word count.
Through their choices and relationships, we have watched Dresden and his merry band of adventure enables change. Sometimes they grow stronger, brighter. However, just as often, they start down a darker path. Through characterization, we give our readers a vicarious experience, showing them who they could have been in another world. In the end, characterization is about choice: our character’s choices as people and our choices as authors.Tags: Sequence 04: On the Shoulders of Giants