A few days ago, I was in the shower and thinking (as I often do) about books: namely, what made me love the ones I loved.
I was thinking in particular of two books—AN EMBER IN THE ASHES and THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING—which I enjoyed immensely, though I enjoyed AN EMBER IN THE ASHES more than THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING. I couldn't really clarify why I liked one more than the other until THE INVASION OF THE TEARLING was released, and I liked it so much better than its predecessor.
The reason is this:
It's something we hear about, think about, and write about all the time. But what does it really mean? How do you quantify character growth?
It's supposed to mean that a character comes out of a story changed by its events. And I think, usually, that's supposed to be a positive thing. But I think there's a scale. How much can a character believably change? And what effects did those changes have on the people surrounding that character?
In THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING, Kelsea's journey seemed less about change than it was about actualizing herself—unleashing the potential she already possessed. In THE INVASION OF THE TEARLING, though, she truly did change—she explored her sexuality, she dug deep into her own darkness, and she found strength to make the choices she didn't think she could actually make. She grew up.
In AN EMBER IN THE ASHES, both Elias and Laia grew immensely as well: Elias finally understood what it meant to draw a line in the sand, to say "No more!" and live with the consequences; and Laia discovered her own agency, her ability to do things without the help of others.
All of my favorite books have this kind of transformative character growth in them. And so many of the books I've liked, but not loved, have fallen short.
It's something I'll have to keep an eye out for in the future.