Sunday, January 17, 2010

How Characters Change

I've been reading a lot lately about how agents/editors want to see how your characters grow or change over time. So I've been going back over what I've written so far in my WIP to see if I've started doing this. Now I'm smack dab in the middle of my book, so the overall growth isn't apparent yet. But I am a little concerned because I've figured out that my mc has not changed very much since the beginning. *sighs*

So I went back to a book that I read over the summer called Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card. I flipped through and read some of the parts that I highlighted and found a chapter about transformations. Card said that there are three themes when it comes to characters in fiction.

**Your stories can include characters who do not change over the course of your story.

**Your stories can have characters who appear to change but in reality are just being true to themselves (before they were pretending to be one thing or they did not have the opportunity to reveal their true selves).

**Your stories could be about people who cannot change until they figure out their true nature (when they figure this out they change their outward lives to reflect their newly discovered inner self).

**Characters in your stories can change because of their drives and desires .

**Characters change because of the way they're treated by other characters.

**Characters can change themselves because of an act of will.

Now at first glance I thought my mc would have to change the most because of the second theme. She has a lot of external factors forcing her hand right now and I think I can play this up more. But the third theme is one that I want to explore with her. I think this will really help readers click more with her on a personal level. But the next thing I have to consider is how to justify these changes. And that's for another post:)

So what do you think about the themes for character change that Card has given? Do you think they could really help in making your characters more believable and sympathetic?


  1. Great post!! I always wonder the same thing.

  2. Honestly, it never occurred to me that a character should or should not change. Now, see what you've done? I learned a whole new thing from you and have to see how it will apply with my WIP. *sigh*

    Thanks for the info. I'm learning alla' time.

    ~ Just Joany
    Red Wagon Flights

  3. I think we just can't underestimate how key characterization is, and how we simply have to care about these people to keep reading. I've found that a character who captivates me will keep me reading much more than the story itself.

    I'm reading the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld right now, and honestly I devoured the first book because I loved the Tally character. She changed in the second book, but I still liked her, and I read it eagerly, but not nearly as fast as the first one. She changed even more drastically in the third book, and it's like pulling teeth to finish it. I always seem to have something better to do with my time. So not all change works I guess. Your characters need to have something to do, but I don't think that their actual tasks and stuff are nearly as important as making them likeable. Or at least interesting. I want characters to be people I wish I knew and/or was like myself. I'll read just about any story with a character like that. Turn them into someone that I can't believe or don't like, and well...I'll give you a little leeway if you've given me good characters in the past, but my goodwill does not extend forever (ahem, Mr. Westerfeld, I'm looking at you.)

  4. I think I need to read Card's book. That sounds very interesting. Thanks for sharing and good luck changing your character! *grin*

  5. I think evolving in same way is important for any character. People don't want to read about stagnant people. I love the multiple ideas for how/why people change. Great insight.
    ~ Wendy

  6. It may be odd, but I usually come up with a situation first and then my character has to deal with it. Sometimes it's harsh and sometimes they like it. I suppose my characters change naturally over time, because I have been changing over time and therefore the quirky situations I fill my stories with change. I cannot see myself writing a mc that does not change, but it could happen if I hit a personal plateau.

    I also love to read books about characters that change, even if it's just their view of themselves that changes.

    Great post, Card is a mastermind and you are wise to quote him.

  7. Natalie - You're welcome!

    Joany - Glad to share something I've learned. And this is something I needed to hear again, too.

    Penny - I know how you feel about the Uglies series. I devoured the first book, but the second took me longer to finish. And I started the third but put it down.

    Nisa - I love this book. It really helped me out when I was planning my current WIP.

    Wendy - You're right. I don't want my characters to be exactly the same from the beginning to the end. I want them to change and for the better.

    Jonathon - My mc is in a really bad situation now. I'm hoping this will be a catalyst for her to grow. I think I'm just going to finish the first draft then go back and evaluate from there. My goal now is to make sure the changes become apparent between now and the end of my book. Thanks for sharing what you do:)

  8. I think it's quite possible to have static characters in stories, but imo, static characters are quite boring. Ultimately, I think MC's should show some sort of change/growth, even if it's very subtle. Have you ever read Flannery O'Connor? Her characters, on the surface, often seem static, but with closer investigation/reading, you realize that her MC has usually undergone a radical change, but only at the end, and usually by way of grace--this shining moment were truth is revealed. The MC's don't necessarily change within the story, but usually, the opportunity for change is at least made available (had the short stories been turned into novels, we likely would see the actual change occur).

    So...I guess what I'm saying is that I wouldn't worry too much if you haven't seen significant growth in your MC's halfway through the book. Just make sure the opportunity for growth is there, and I think you will find that your MCs naturally change through the progression of the plot.

  9. I think characters should definitely have an arc where they learn and grow, but I don't think they necessarily need to change.

    Sounds like an interesting book.

  10. Thank you for this flash of insight! Hunger Games bothered me because Katniss was such a twit. It was nice to see her become less of one in book 2.

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  12. A twit?!

    I am taking a step back.

    okay, your opinion, whatevs.

    Someone in the background yells, "Play nice, Jonny."

  13. This was very helpful. I've always felt that my character didn't change enough, but now perusing through this list I think her transformation is just right.

  14. I feel characterization is the most important part of a novel. It is also the hardest. : )

    Team Peeta - Woot!

  15. Carol - No, I haven't read Flannery O'Connor (really need to do that). Thanks for suggesting her work. As for my book, I know by the end there will be change, but I'm just a little worried that I haven't shown a lot so far. But that's what editing is for:)

    Patti - This book is great. It really helped me a lot to learn about characters and how to make them more believable.

    Suzette - Oh, I have to disagree. I love Katniss:) And I'm eagerly waiting for book 3 to get here!

    Jonathon - Okay...Play nice Jonny:o)

    Jessie - Glad this post could help:)

    Kimberly - You're absolutely right about characterization. I've read a lot of agent interviews in which they state this as a reason for wanting to read a ms.

  16. Great post - I enjoyed that book as well. It's jam packed with great information!! Thanks for sharing and good luck with your characters :o)

  17. Erica - I know, I learned a lot from that book. Thanks!