Magical Transitions with Fictional Characters

One of the challenges that confront all writers is how to bring about a fundamental change in a character. As very many writers will know, at times a character takes on a life of their own; that the presence of an agent in a story can become so robust that it is hard to get them to cooperate with the inevitable twist and turns the writer’s imagination weaves in the telling of a tale.
Perhaps the most common example is when a previously secret part of a characters life is revealed. Suddenly the pleasant vicar becomes a murderer, or the honest civil servant a spy. Or maybe the change is even deeper, and we find that the mild bookseller turns out to be a war criminal escaped from a distant galaxy, or a mythological being slowly woken to fulfil some terrible purpose!
This kind of situation should be easy, we simply write it that way; but, alas, often when we do, problems of continuity hover on the edge, testing the credulity of the reader. We have all come across characters that suddenly appear to have a personality transplant, examples where it appears that a wholly new person has taken the place of the one we have grown used to as the story has developed. These kinds of sudden, dislocated shifts can destroy the structure of a story very rapidly. In fiction, qualified believability is the centre stone of a reader’s seamless immersion into the worlds we create. Mistime the flow of ideas through a misstep in the fluidity of a characters presence in the narrative, and you risk unpicking the symmetry that had bound your readers and made your tale believable.
So, how do we do this in practice? The starting point must be staying true to your creation’s main traits. If one of your central characters has always been generous, say, then even if they turn out to be a serial killer they must still have within them a certain level of generosity. This would need to be qualified, but must still be recognisable. The only exceptions to this could be emerging mental health problems, conscious manipulation on part of the character (but the more this comes as a surprise, the more often it will be seen to be nothing more than a “rabbit out of a hat”), or suggestions of shifts in reality. That is, that the fundamental structure of the narrative is changing. This is where you begin to draw on magical constructions, magic realism or surrealism. Such transitions can liberate the writer from concrete explanations and the limitations of realism, and open up a whole new universe of ideas; the only limitations being the writer’s ability to spin poetic webs of the imagination.
I use the approach a great deal in my writing, not least because our minds are as magical as they are rational. We do not construct our everyday lives and relationships as a series of logical propositions, but instead we enjoy a daily voyage of discovery through flights of fancy and speculation every bit as wild as the most adventurous science fiction and fantasy. To not include this in our writing seems wasteful!
So, here is an example for my own work. The character has been introduced as an academic archaeologist, but later it transpires that she is anything but ordinary. As part of this transition, she has a “dream” that begins to change the deepest parts of her being. It all begins with a turtle:
“The turtle crawled out of the mud fully formed and with a smile on its face that Nitu would recall for the rest of her life. The recollection had more to do with the fact that she was aware that it wasn’t actually a real smile but an artefact of the way its mouth had formed to best scoop food from the bottom of the ocean. But the truth made no difference because whenever she recalled the image in the future it was always thought by others that it was the smile that had caught her attention and not the fact that a turtle had been born unusually out of the mud. She let their misinterpretations pass. She knew that human imagination could only cope with something it has already thought through and filled with misinformation, and, anyway, at that time no one was prepared to believe that everything already known about turtles had been wrong.
At the moment the turtle appeared Nitu knew nothing about what hermeneutical mischief would later play havoc with her vision, and so she acted purely with the curiosity of the innocent and reached out and held onto its quickly accelerating shell as it swam swiftly and deeply on its unknown path through the dark, warm water of her dream and left the mud of its birth far behind.
The turtle swam with astonishing swiftness and the power of its strokes almost washed her from its shell; but still, despite the speed, everything passed by them as though in slow motion and so she managed to glimpse the lives of the strange inhabitants of the coral worlds and lost cities of imagination from the moment they were born until they died in obscure old age. She revelled in the vivid tales and amorous adventures she witnessed as the denizens searched for meaning in lives that were so short yet so full of potential. She cried frequently when a soul able to fill the world with endless light and wisdom blinked out in the darkest wretched misery. She mourned these unguarded souls who once conjured hope but were abandoned to rotting flesh by eyes that couldn’t see.
She met mermaids so beautiful she dared not look at them for more than a second in case she drowned in despair at the bottom of the endless depths that lurked beneath every unseen moment of trickery the human mind was capable of encoding.
Her voyage was peopled with great shining beasts whose heads were so far from their tails that she was never sure if it was a series of great monsters circling her or was instead the single mythical creature of legend whose length was so great that its body circled the Earth and would one day grow so long it would merge with itself into a single massive ring so large it would stop the ocean currents and squeeze life from even the deepest hidden cause of all the new days the sun had brought.
She saw that all life was short and precarious and even the most hidden secrets of the universe depended on a chance flicker in a lover’s eye and the miraculous bringing into being of hope to dwell close by in opposition to the gigantic voids of nameless extinction that pressed in moment by moment to second guess the turtles passage and blind her to some passing life that should be recorded but never would.
Her journey was a song for others to hear and grant immortality to moments beyond them. She bore witness to events brought into the light by powers that drove her onwards as they turned and twisted with disregard for everything except the current that carried her and the purpose that had no aim other than to fulfil intentions lost even before time began.
She gathered tales that will ever be told except to the oldest mind in patterns too large to grasp as all that has been before lightens and time never ends.
Nitu saw all of this and understood what Illiaeth had never told her and never would. She embraced the truth as she twisted naked in the unknown seas of her imagination and grasped a reality that had never been revealed except in the quiet moments of the solitary death of all life as it dreams extinction along paths so hard to bear that until their moment of relief, when all knowledge is removed and they survive only in forgotten realms where a single day is beyond counting, a year but a pause for thought, and peace beyond its grasp.
In this singular dream-song the tide drove her from the beginning of time to the end of the LIIyviian in a place and set of circumstances that would make everything that had gone before emerge as nothing more than the turning of a page.
She awoke with a passion that would never be satisfied and which would therefore grant her an ageless hunger for everything that would ensure she would never die. The day brought no fear and the sun made her smile like a turtle, and as quickly as it had begun the dream was forgotten and she was left with nothing more than the image of the turtle’s face emerging from the mud.”
Engage with magic, and there are no limits to where you can take your readers.

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