Murderbot: A Lesson in Character Growth

Image of a blackboard with Reading Novels Teaches Me How to Write written on it

One complaint authors frequently make is that writing fiction has ruined reading for pleasure because they can’t turn off their editor brain to enjoy a story.

I usually don’t have that problem.

However, every once in a while some aspect of a book I’m reading for pleasure will jump out at me. Sometimes it’s a plot element that makes me rethink my own plot. Sometimes it’s a book’s character development that gives me insight into ways I could deepen one of my characters.

This happened recently to me while reading Network Effect, the first full-length novel in the Murderbot Diaries science fiction series by Martha Wells. The main character, Murderbot, is a security bot that is a mix of robot and human parts. What I find fascinating is the character’s struggle to deal with emotions and how it builds friendships with both humans and non-humans.

What does this have to do with my writing? Well, the hero I’m currently writing has an aversion to strong, “messy” emotions. Kind of like Murderbot.

While Murderbot’s emotional journey is far different than Dev’s, they both struggle to deal with emotions they’re uncomfortable with while protecting the ones they care about.

I look at Murderbot’s progression and see echoes of Dev’s progression. However, Dev has to make significant emotional progress in my current book because it’s the only one in which he’s center stage. In contrast, Murderbot grows over the course of a series.

(Okay, I confess to a bit of cheating. I gave Dev a point of view in the previous book precisely because I knew he required more character growth than one book could handle. He needed to change in a few key ways before meeting his heroine in the current book.)

For Dev, his emotional growth is spurred by his interaction with his romantic interest. Plus, unless he grows and adapts, he won’t be able to stop the bad guys. It’s an interesting challenge to balance all the nuances of his character arc within a combined romance and thriller plot.

And yes, I am doing the same on the heroine’s side.

While the Murderbot books don’t have any romance, they do have lots of action and strong friendships. They’ve shown me what aspects of character growth appeal to me and given me examples of how such growth can be developed across a story arc.

Each book I write presents a unique challenge as I force my characters to make significant emotional growth within a limited amount of time. It remains to be seen how successful I'll be with Dev and his heroine. 

As for the Murderbot books, I love Murderbot so much. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

That’s the kind of reader reaction we all strive for.