When Cheryl Klein spoke on plot at Prairie Writer’s Day, there was one thing she really hammered home: your main character must change. It’s part of the definition of internal plot.
I’ve heard the same thing from many others, and it’s rare that I enjoy a story where the main character doesn’t change. So this idea of change must be true, but my question is this: what does change mean, and how is it applied?
Webster’s definition of change: to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone; to transform or convert; to become different; to become altered or modified; to become transformed or converted (usually fol. by into); to pass gradually into
Hmm. Sounds pretty drastic, especially if your character is a baby-stepper. Some characters are good at altering a particular mindset, eliminating or adding to a huge part of his normal life, or even changing of who he is. Others...not so much.
If your character is resistant to change(like many people in the real world), what do you do? What if his life is not too bad the way it is? Does that automatically mean his story will flop? I don’t think so.
I think that there are varying degrees of change. With a character who’s open to change, his growth must be more drastic than the ones who aren’t open to change. With a character who’s not open to change, he still needs to grow in some way, even if it’s simply taking one tiny step toward the change he needs to make.
I think a lot of writers make a huge mistake in this area. They think their characters need to change, so they change them, regardless of whether it’s the right kind of change for that character. But how do we know what the right kind of change is? It’s all in the character, and writing what’s consistent with what your character would do, given the circumstances he’s under.
For example, I’ve said before that I didn’t think Frankie’s change was consistent with her character in THE DISREPUTABLE HISTORY OF FRANKIE LANDAU-BANKS. Given what we knew of her, and how good she was at getting what she wanted, her initial confession didn’t fit her character. Nor did her actions afterward fit.
Conversely, Connor’s change in UNWIND makes perfect sense. What starts off as self-preservation turns into a desire to help more than just himself. Given the circumstances he’s been in, he’d have to be a horrible person to not take this path. Readers don’t generally like reading about horrible people. : )
Anyway, I guess my point is that, yes, a character must change. But the level of change must be consistent with who your character is.