Safe Harbor

Character development is a key factor of any writing project, and that includes challenging the characters with struggle.

John Shedd is known to have said, “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” Character development in a novel relates to that sentiment because a character can be safe in their world, but that’s not what the novel is built for.

Novels are built for longer stories that immerse a writer into a new world where the protagonists must endure some sort of struggle.

In my most recent novel, ‘The Magic of Cape Disappointment,‘ the protagonist’s return to the safe harbor of her childhood is when her real adventure begins. This photo is a picture of the Ilwaco, Washington harbor where the protagonist grew up and returns after completing medical school in order to take care of her grandmother.

One of the concepts I thought was interesting to explore in the novel was the idea of the safe harbor both literally, in the case of Ilwaco, and figuratively with the protagonist’s soul mate. When the protagonist first returns to Ilwaco after many years in New York City, she first views this safe harbor as anything but, and her goal is focused on returning to New York as quickly as possible.

As the novel progresses and her safe harbor hometown is threatened by an unexpected force, she starts to realize the value of home and belonging. Of course, those lessons are learned not from quiet observation of her daily life, but by enduring several tests of strength.

I hope that wherever you are, that you’ve found a safe harbor, but that you also don’t let it stifle your development.

As for my character, by the end of the novel (and a theme in the following) she echoes the famous Louisa May Alcott quote, “I am not afraid of storms for I am learning how to sail my ship.”

Novels are built to challenge the characters. As readers, we want to succeed vicariously with the characters as they move through their challenges to live happily ever after in their own safe harbors.