Big news: My latest novel, the third in the Disney Fairies series, called Fairies and the Quest for Never Land, was released yesterday!!!! I hope you’ll take a look at it. The illustrations by David Christiana are gorgeous. Hope you like the words and the pictures!
On March 18, 2010, Sage-in-Socks wrote, ...Sometimes I find myself forcing a change in a character because I feel, to be a round, dynamic character he or she must change in some way by the end of the story. To what extent should a character change? Are subtle changes like a change of opinion also characteristic of dynamic characters? Or should a character by the end of the story be quite different from what he or she is like in the beginning? Are there any limits? I mean I wouldn't want to /force/ a character to change or change her personality--I rather like their flaws.
From your description, Sage-in-Socks, it doesn’t sound wise to force change on a character. Whatever growth comes about needs to arise from what the character does in a situation, what she thinks, feels, says. It shouldn’t be a bitter - or sugary - pill she’s made to swallow. Your character certainly shouldn’t do a one-eighty. She still needs to be recognizably herself at the end. And the changes can be small - yes, a change of opinion, maybe a new appreciation of poetry.
In Chapter 16 of Writing Magic I write about character change. The chapter, called “Happily Ever After - Or Not,” is about endings, and in there I write that usually a character should change by a story’s finale. Right at this particular moment, however, I’m not so sure.
Sometimes the reader absolutely does not want a character to change. As a child, I gobbled up the books in the Cherry Ames series. I did not want Cherry to switch even the color of her lipstick! I loved her exactly as she was.
This is true of some series today, too, where the characters can be relied on to carry their foibles from book to book. It’s absolutely true of comic strip characters. Mysteries often fall into this category as well; the detective is the constant from story to story. There are new crimes to solve, but the detective remains unaltered. I hope to write more books following my mystery, A Tale of Two Castles. My heroine Elodie will probably grow older and change, but I would like to keep the dragon Meenore essentially the same from book to book.
Ella’s character doesn’t vary much in the course of Ella Enchanted. Because of her actions, her circumstances change, but she has much the same personality at the end of the book as she did when her mother got sick. On the other hand, Addie, the heroine of The Two Princesses of Bamarre, is fundamentally altered as a result of her exploits, but I don’t think I did a better job with one heroine or the other. Different stories have different effects on their characters. And the degree of change may vary too. In some stories a mere change of opinion will be exactly what’s needed.
Like so much else in writing, it depends.
Some rounded, dynamic, actual people - you know them - never change, some for the good, some for the bad. The aunt you count on to listen and not judge goes on listening and not judging for years. She is a rock. The cousin who criticizes everybody continues to criticize, no matter how his harping damages his closest relationships. He is a rock too, one with a painfully sharp edge.
Secondary characters can change, or not. Their development may affect your story and your main character, but they’re not quite as important as your main, so I’m going to concentrate on your hero.
Sometimes, failure to adapt will result in tragedy. In my novel Ever, Kezi’s view of the religion she grew up in evolves. If she’d stuck to her original beliefs she would have been sacrificed to a god that the reader has come to doubt. Even if Kezi herself didn’t, the reader would regard her death as a tragedy.
Arthur Miller’s amazing tragedy, Death of a Salesman (high school and above, I’d guess), is about a man who can’t see beyond his world view, who has staked his life on shallow values. His values are shallow, but the play is very deep, complicated, and worth seeing or reading.
In a different story, one I’m making up this minute, tragedy might be averted by refusal to change. Suppose a main character Marnie befriends a new boy at school. Let’s call him Joe. At first Joe is well liked, but then rumors begin to circulate about him, serious stuff: he steals; he brought a knife to his former school; he lies about everything. When Marnie doesn’t believe the rumors and continues the friendship, her other friends desert her, saying they’re afraid of Joe and are becoming afraid of her. Even Marnie’s parents warn her against the boy, who is spiraling into depression. Marnie hangs firm, doesn’t change, and her trust keeps Joe afloat against the accusations, which may be true or false. If they’re true, Marnie may bring about change in Joe and help him become a better person. Good grief! This could be a soap opera!
Or it could go another way. The rumors turn out to be true, and Marnie is hurt, but she still concludes that she did what was right. Or aaa! Marnie could be killed, and then her staunchness turns into a fatal flaw.
In some respects, Marnie will change whichever way the story goes. She’ll learn more about her friends and about herself. She may have a greater moral sense by the end of the story. In most stories, your main character will change at least a little. As the author, you can highlight the changes by having your main character reflect on them or having other characters point them out. Or you can simply show your main character behaving in a new way.
So I guess my answer for this invented story is ambiguous and may be ambiguous in many stories. If Marnie, in addition to her faithfulness, interrupts people often or bites her nails or needs to sleep with a nightlight, these aspects of her personality can remain untouched - or you can change them as evidence of her new maturity. But you probably don’t want to change everything about her. Let her keep the flaws you like.
Here are four prompts:
• Your hero wants romance with someone artistic, attractive, and as much in love with baseball as he is. He finds such a person, whom he likes, but this character falls short in some important ways. Write the scene in which he assesses himself and his romantic ideas. Does he change or not?
• Your main character wants to reform herself, stop being bossy and become more caring. Write a scene in which she completely fails at this self-improvement.
• Superman gives up saving people. Write the turning point that pushes him in this direction.
• Wickham from Pride and Prejudice decides to no longer be a scoundrel. Write the scene in which the change takes place or in which the seeds of change are sewn. If you like, write a summary of how the plot develops after his transformation.