Change

10:35 AM




I'm back for real! BUT. Fan Month is not over yet, so you won't get that overview until Saturday because I'm a disorganized mess like that and sucky stuff went down this month and yeah. But I'll figure it out and it'll all be cool.



Today I'm talking about change. 

(Which is a really fun word that can mean lots of fun things, and which I am using very vaguely. Because I can.) 

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a writing workshop with YA author Mindee Arnett, which was awesome. (I mentioned one of her books, Avalon, in last week's bookish post. It's about spaceships and conning and sarcasm and it is quite wonderful. Go read it.) 

Anyway, during this writing workshop we talked about the writing process and necessary parts to a story, and she brought up something that really stuck with me. 

Characters have to change over the course of the story. 

I've been waiting a long time to use this. 

In my admittedly limited writing experience, this is absolutely true and necessary. The characters (the main character especially) have to change. 

Why, you ask? 

Well, have you ever read a book where the main character didn't change? Where they didn't learn anything? Where their flaws and personality and all that good stuff stayed exactly the same? 

Yeah.

I've read books like this, and while some people liked those books, I definitely didn't. And it's not just a circumstances change, either. That's kind of a given if you're writing any kind of novel at all. But whether for good or for bad, people change when you put them through stuff. They learn things. They either go darker, or come out enlightened. That's just how life works, ain't it? So that's how stories should work. 

We want to see our characters struggle. If you put them through trauma like that, they shouldn't come out all fine and dandy, just the same as when they entered innocently. Their worldview is different, or they've realized a flaw, or they've started opening up to people, or they've become a villain, or they're dead, or they're just nicer. 

Change. 

Example time! (can't promise there won't be spoilers, but oh well.) 

1. Change can be positive or negative. 

Positive: Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit (let's stick to the book here, please) goes from reluctant, homebody hobbit dragged kicking and screaming off on an adventure to someone who fights in epic battles involving giant eagles. 



Negative: Loki from - well, actually, everyone knows about Loki. If you don't you've been living under a rock. Loki is a neglected, hurting, jealous, manipulative, angry little brother who goes from merely trying to make himself king of Asgard because he 'deserves it' to going totally psycho and trying to destroy/take over Earth. 



2. Internal change is important. 

Sure, it's all fun and games to become a cyborg, or a long-lost prince/princess/whatever, or become a wizard, or whatever. But I'm talking about internal change today. You know, like, 'I was mistreated so now I'm going to take that and kill everyone and their families' or 'I've actually been super selfish and now I'm going to save the world' kind of change. Another thing that Mindee pointed out at the writing workshop was that there's almost always - and should be - a moment of revelation near the end of the story, where the hero realizes what's wrong with them or what's going on and decides to change it. Like the really cheesy moment in Frozen when they figure out that it's sisterly love that can fix everything conveniently thaw a frozen heart, and not romantic love. Or when Flynn Rider shifts his goal from getting the crown to actually helping Rapunzel. Or when Jean Valjean in Les Miserables makes us all cry by realizing how angry and bitter he's been and decides to forgive. 

Internal change. 

No, YOU'RE crying. 

3. It's usually the realization of a flaw that has haunted them for the whole story. 

A common one is selfishness. Starlord/Flynn Rider/whoever wants to sell the thing for money so they can take care of themselves, but at a key moment they come to realize that they've got to save the world/princess instead, and they actually care about others more than they let on. A character with anger issues realizes that if they lash out like they want to, they screw everything up and hurt people around them. It could be forgiving, or letting go of something, or whatever. You get the point. This isn't always the case, especially with negative arcs (that's a whole different beast to deal with) but that moment of change in stories usually happens when the character realizes their problem, or embraces something, at a crucial moment just in time to fix it. 


Like I said, this isn't always the case, and it's something you can play around with. But it is important to remember that no matter what, your character is going to be different by the end of the story. Or they should be, at least. You don't need some big dramatic musical-score touchy-feely sort of Disney moment, either, although I do love some of those. Really, the only thing you can do wrong (I'm going to regret saying that later) is leave them exactly the same for the entire story. 

What about you? What story has some of your favorite character development, and why? How do you show characters changing throughout the story? Comment away. 


27 comments

  1. This is really, really cool. I always feel like I'm lacking in that area, especially if I put too much thought into it. In my writing, I actually find that the characters just kinda change as I continue writing, even if I don't mean for them too. But, that's a good thing. I definitely agree with the fact that books where the characters say the same bore me to death.
    (And, I love the comment about how if you don't know who Loki is you live under a rock. XD)

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    1. Yeah, I suck at it too right now xD It's something I tend not to think about on my own, so it was cool to have someone point it out very strongly. And yes, they definitely do change - I'm working on being more intentional about finding it.
      Thanks for reading! :D

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  2. I'm just saying, but I have definitely read books where the main character didn't change. Let's just say I am not getting my life back. *sigh* Although, I wouldn't say Loki's change was unenlightened; even though he acted against the goodwill of humanity he did learn more about himself and what he wanted to do with himself, you know. And, his change hasn't finished yet, because he's been in three movies so far—so his character is still changing! :D (I'm not trying to contradict what you said, by the way. Bilbo's a good choice because his story's been done for about 70 years; we're still experiencing live-action change with Loki. He's not a bad choice either, we just don't know the end yet!) Also Jean Valjean. So much Jean Valjean. Yaass. (And I thought the Frozen love was annoyingly convenient as well.)

    So, yes. Change is good in characters, and maybe they'll hate you for it! :)

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    1. Yes, you're definitely right...personally I'm ready for the whole Loki arc to be over now (you defeated the villain, let's put him aside and bring in someone new. Really.) but it's still ongoing, so thanks for pointing that out. :) It is admittedly an interesting arc so far, even if I'm keeping fingers crossed hoping we don't do any kind of cheesy redemption thing with him. I like my villains to stay that way. :P

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    2. I know you've mentioned that before. Although since he's stopped being the villain (I believe he's the anti-hero now) I think he's cycling back to being a good guy. But who says that villains can't be good people? He's well on his way to redemption already... Well, that's just me, though. :)

      Anyway.

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    3. *shrugs* Personal opinion, I guess. xD

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  3. Okay, so have you read K.M. Weiland's blog, Helping Writers Become Authors? It's just about a textbook for this kind of stuff. She goes into positive change arcs, negative change arcs, and (what you seem to be talking about, when a character doesn't change) flat arcs. Also, she calls what you're calling a flaw, the Lie the Character Believes. The moment of revelation is when they realize the Truth (that often others characters already know). It's complicated but really helpful.
    Your explanation is a lot easier to understand though. xD Which is helpful. And by the way, I agree that the Frozen moment was cheesy, but romantic love is cliche. Oh well. Where is one to turn?

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    1. I've looked at articles on there a few times, and it seems really cool! I should probably look at it more... *runs to check it out*

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  4. Wow this is brilliant, per the norm. Gosh. I wholeheartedly agree and now that you've pointed it out, I can see many books that failed for me specifically because the characters showed no change! Which automatically makes them much less realistic to me. Great job Aimee! :)

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    1. Aw, thanks! It's something I didn't realize a lot until Mindee pointed it out and gave it a name, and now I'm realizing that it's one of the main reasons I tend to dislike stories or dislike characters. Change is one of the most realistic things there is, and it's important to be sure you're showing it. Thanks for reading!

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  5. First of all, it's really cool that you were able to attend a workshop led by a published author. It sounds like you learned a lot. Second of all, I agree that characters must change throughout a story. Change in a character is a great way to express the theme of the book and also help us relate to the characters. That's one reason The Hobbit is one of my favorite books. Bilbo Baggins changes so much throughout the story, and it makes it so much more interesting and relatable.

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    1. I really did learn a lot - it was a super cool experience that I'm glad I got to have. And you're right! You can really show themes in a realistic way through the way characters change. I love The Hobbit for the same reason. :)

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  6. I know nothing of Loki, sorry!

    But character development is hard. I try to not overthink it in the first draft (I hardly think about it at all), and come back to it in the second draft to make sure development happened. Having never completed a second draft, I don't know if it works xD

    And a workshop by a published YA author! That's amazing!

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    1. Haha, I guess I can forgive you :P

      It really is. First drafts aren't a good time to develop it, I'd agree, since I just kind of spill everything in my head out onto the doc there and don't really think about it. xD You'll get there!

      Thanks! It really was an incredible opportunity. She actually lives about an hour away from me, which I didn't realize before, which was why it worked out so well.

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  7. Hmm, don't you like the movie adaptations? (They are rather bloated, I suppose ... but ah well. Back to the point.) And that's definitely important. It doesn't have to be a huge epiphany moment, I suppose ... although we can all be Loki and a diva every now and then.

    But whyyyy did you not include Han Solo in the Flynn Rider/Starlord comparison. Whyyyyy. That was an amazing character development. "I'm just in it for the money, Princess."

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    1. (Yeah, I'm kind of a book purist and having loved The Hobbit in its glorious book form I wasn't too pleased with the direction the movies too.)

      I don't mind huge dramatic realization moments, either, but I am fond of some of the subtle ones too. It all depends on the character and the story and the moment, in my opinion.

      DUDEEEEE. I forgot Han. Oh, gosh, I need to watch those again, since I really do love them. And I agree, that character development is fantastic. *headdesk*

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  8. A great post - and very true! No one stays the same... even if I think about myself I am different now to when I was little. However the problem I have is that I know my character has changed.... but trying to convey that clearly yet subtly in writing... is kinda tricky!

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    1. Oh, yes. I struggle with that one a lot - they change, but I have to figure out a way to present that clearly without shoving it in peoples' faces. It's a tricky balance that I'm still trying to figure out. But thanks for reading! :D

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    2. :-) No problem - recently discovered your blog and I love it! :-)

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    3. Oh, I forgot to mention - I'm really interested in the Myers Briggs test as well!

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    4. Yay! It's a really fun test to do. This is the test I use, if you wanted. http://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test :)

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  9. I think my characters change, but by accident. I need to focus on that a lot more! So thanks for pointing that out :-)
    I've followed your blog by the way!

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    1. Thanks so much, and welcome to the madness! xD And I'm with you there - we don't usually plan it, but it's such a natural thing that it happens anyway. I'm trying to think about it more often myself.

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  10. Awk, I totally agree. I have read DOZENS of books were the character is the same in chapter one as in chapter-the-end and it bugs me a lot. As much as I ADORE The Mortal Instruments series...I feel like every single character goes through extraordinary change and development except for Clary. You could insert Clary-book-1 with Clary-book-6 and they're basically the same person. *Sigh* It's my only sadness with that series (I rated most of them 5-stars because Simon is the PERFECT example of great character development). XD Loved this post!

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    1. Oh, I read the first Mortal Instruments book and I think I stopped because I didn't like Clary...*nods*

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  11. I love the points you've made here. Change is crucial for a story, especially within the main character. The books I've read where the main character doesn't change are unenjoyable.

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  12. Such a good post. I loved your examples, too--perfect. Although I will say I was disappointed with the Hobbit book-verse because Bilbo grows beautifully throughout the story and then at the end puts on the ring and hides out really anticlimactically in the final battle. :P

    But Loki is great. And don't forget how he changes all over again in Thor 2. Amazing. And they make it so believable even though he changes so much.

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