1. Salamander
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    Salamander Member

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    Charachter Change

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Salamander, Jan 19, 2013.

    Whenever I read, the thing that really seals the deal at the end of the book and makes it a great read instead of merely a good one is character development.

    Without it, the hero's journey just feels like a slog. I'm in the process of writing a novel right now, and I want to make sure that my characters are changed enough at the end of the story.

    It's pretty hard to keep this stuff in mind as you're writing and end up with the same person who set out. What techniques do you guys use to ensure change in your characters? Do you plan it out ahead, do you add it as notes in the plot outline, etc.
     
  2. notnancydrew
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    notnancydrew New Member

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    You definitely have to plan. I start by writing my protagonist's background. Once I know who he is at the beginning of the story, I decide what change I want him to experience during the story and who he will be at the end. Then, I incorporate that into the outline I've written for the story. When I'm writing, I refer to that outline to know which plot points change him, and when to make adjustments to my writing.

    I know a lot of people don't like to outline, but it's the only thing I've found that works for me. I use it to keep track of so many things.
     
  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    For me, it has depended on the kind of project I am writing. I once wrote a novel about a Catholic priest, the son of a wealthy family, assigned to a very poor parish. The story was about the changes in him, but more on the changes of the people he dealt with. Because of the nature of the story, I didn't feel I needed to use an outline. Then again, I wasn't able to get it published, so perhaps I should have. :)

    OTOH, my current project is a historical novel. There are different characters in every chapter, so outlining is an absolute necessity. I have almost filled two 5-subject notebooks with research notes, outlines and planning notes, including character arcs for the major character in each chapter. Working on this project is proving to be a transformative experience for me, and I would likely use this technicque for any project going forward, regardless of genre.
     
  4. wavodavo
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    wavodavo Member

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    Salamander, you mentioned "characters" needing to change. The rule -- which is of course more of a guideline -- is for the MC to be changed for better or worse by the events of the story. You CAN have every person change in a story. There was a fine sci-fi novel by Greg Bear "Anvil of Stars" where its many characters start out as adolescent innocents and after a long and terrible war the novel ends as it began with them playing the same silly game, but all the characters have been changed by the war. But, you don't have to have all characters change. If fact, having an antagonist that doesn't change can add ever more conflict to your MC who has changed.

    As for my technique, I get to beg off. I'm a short story writer. The story form doesn't have a lot of room for lengthy explorations of old vices and new ones. I generally know going in what the main character will be like coming out. I suggest for you -- because I'd do this if I was writing a long work -- is to have a checklist with short descriptions of what each character is like at the beginning and at the end. You can glance at it as your novel comes together to ensure your character(s) is/are progressing in the direction you want.
     
  5. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think you have to be willing to be crushed. You, as the writer, have to be willing to say “Oh my god, this can’t really be happening!” But it is happening – your character is changing, and the relationships your character has with others is changing, and you probably won’t like it. I can’t know what Margaret Mitchell was thinking at the end of Gone With the Wind, but she was probably crying when she had Rhett Butler saying “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” and leaving Scarlett O’Hara forever. It was perfectly right for the characters and the story, but I bet it crushed her to have to write it.

    Relationships get torn apart. Characters die. Characters you love must die, if that’s what the story demands. You have to be willing to accept that. Even if you have spent months or even years being in love with your characters, you have to let go and let the story play out. It takes strength and vision on your part to let your characters change.

    Readers won’t respond to your story if nothing important happens. It may feel nice to swim forever in the ocean of your story, but it isn’t a story unless it ends, and it ends when your main character changes. You won’t like this, but it’s the thing that gives your story meaning and power, and it’s the thing readers respond to.

    You have to be willing to be crushed.
     
  6. Jack Dawkins
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    Jack Dawkins Member

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    I think it depends on what kind of novel your writing. Some novels I read is because of the character and I don't expect them to change or grow, unless of course it's a coming of age novel. Philip Marlowe, Harry Dresden, or any great character in a series, I would rather they remain in character and only the plot changes from novel to novel.
     
  7. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Detective fiction and spy fiction (and other genres) are a bit strange. These stories are not really about their heroes. Sherlock Holmes doesn't change much in his stories. James Bond doesn't change much in his stories. These characters don't go through arcs, they just show up and save the day. The stories are really about the villains - they're the ones whose lives are changed by the events in the stories. But the authors don't focus on them because they know the audience wants to see Good triumph over Evil, so the focus is on the good guy. But the good guy doesn't change; he just puts in a day's work, so to speak. He does his job. The events of the story don't affect him in any significant way.

    This kind of fiction is valid, of course, and I love it - I'm a huge Sherlock Holmes fan. But it isn't deep. It doesn't make me examine myself the way serious novels do. (I wish I didn't have to use the word "serious" there, because not all these novels are serious, but no other word presents itself to my brain right now.)

    I said above that the writer has to be willing to be crushed. If the writer is crushed, the reader can be crushed. That's an incredible feeling and it comes from serious literature. I'm not crushed by a Sherlock Holmes story or a James Bond story. I know they'll be back to fight the good fight again.

    That's what I mean when I say these stories are not really about their heroes. It's a different kind of fiction.
     
  8. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Oops - double post
     
  9. Salamander
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    Salamander Member

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    I'm working on a novel where I cycle through many different characters, although only two are really the "heroes", that's why I put it in plural.

    I'm just concerned about the precise changes that are taking place. I didn't intend to write it as a downer book, but the plot doesn't go well for any of the POV characters.

    The spymaster's coup turns against him and he is killed in the struggle. The general who helped him dies as well. The star lieutenant's unit is crushed and his ideas about patriotism are shattered, the last lines of the book are him fleeing into the wilderness. The young engineer's mind ends up being uploaded to a massive computer network and the young man from the tribal regions who acted as her guide and bodyguard throughout the whole story doesn't even recognize her anymore by the end of the book, nor she him. The android is a machine, and doesn't really have any development beyond the obvious tension over what defines sentience. There's no karma at work and nobody seems to get their comeuppance, good or ill.

    Normally character development in stories I read is about positive growth, or at very least recovery and reacquiring some kind of peaceful equilibrium. I wonder if somebody can take such seemingly negative events and still engage the reader, or will they just put down the book because they want something a little more upbeat? I know sometimes that kind of thing can make me stop reading. For example, I like Catcher in the Rye now, but when I was younger and I first read it it was too dreary, and it didn't really feel like the character had learned anything other than that life was pretty goddamn confusing. It worries me, because that seems to be the same "realization" that I draw from the current conclusion of my novel. It feels right, and other times I've tried to give it a happier ending it just looses all poignancy, but I don't want to turn off readers either.

    (And to think I used to worry about trivialities like what genre it was going to be!:rolleyes:)
     
  10. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Then you are not reading a wide enough variety in stories. Characters need to change, but that change doesn't have to be for the better.
     
  11. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I plan it ahead. The major plot points are always in my head before I start, and plot points are always forcing character development of the protagonist. Together with these plot points (events and situations that propel your character further through the story) is the beginning and an end and a fairly good plan for the middle. I try not to be too specific with details, but overall theme usually stays.

    I think that if you write stories that are deeply meaningful to you, then you will have a basic three act structure already in mind, and that relies on character arc. Our lives and thus our stories follow that structure so it's actually a sign of a well thought-out book, if you have some idea about where your character is heading and how they will (in general) end up.
     

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