1. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    How to make character changes subtle?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Lae, Feb 23, 2014.

    I have my main protagonist supported by three or four main characters (one of which is a love interest) and i want to have them change over time due to his influence.

    Some are easy, the love interest, jealous reactions etc but im interested in making changes to their personalities etc almost like a slow indoctrination. I want to make my protagonist and the reader almost unaware of his influence.

    My initial approach was changing their reactions and actions taken in certain situations over time but im having trouble making this subtle, its either too obvious or doesn't quite link with the protagonist in the way i want.

    One supporting character for example is the strong willed hard headed sort and the idea i had for him was to have him deviate from his usual course of action by considering other options rather than just going in with what he deems best. any ideas how i can go through this transition more smoothly?

    Its hard to ask this question with sufficient info without giving away the story.
     
  2. Jak of Hearts
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    Jak of Hearts Member

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    I don't know about making it subtle, I personally strive for realistic. All of my characters have a personality and whenever they make a decision, I ask myself how they would react. If you do that, then I find that most of the time their change happens gradually as they react newly after each incident that effects them.

    If you're having trouble with something being too great of a change, then what is a halfway point? Instead of considering other options, perhaps the first time he hesitates for a split second, then he starts to think of other options but disregards them, then finally towards the end he gives in to change.

    You could also stretch it thinner with where they start and where they finish. In a story I am writing, I have a character who started at A and I planned for him to end up at F. During writing, I felt it was too great of a change for it to be realistic so I changed it from going from A to D instead and then each step seemed more gradual. Also, I found ways whenever possible to sneak character development into scenes that didn't even seem like it featured them (for example, for my alcoholic character, during a dinner scene I make a passing remark about her leaving the last few swigs of her wine behind). I try and insert this single random sentence so subtly that some may not even catch it.

    I don't know if that helps or not, but that's really all the insight that I have into the matter.
     
  3. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Screw subtle. Your reader comes to you to be entertained. They're not looking for character studies, they're looking for action. Story is about the character's reaction to plot events. Yes, it's about the protagonist growing and changing, and subtlety does play a part, but it must be natural. And unless the fact of the change matters to the plot, or the protagonist, it's not very important.

    Set the place on fire and see what your protagonist does about it. Drop a body through the ceiling. Make the act of reading fun.
     
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  4. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    And for that reason, equally hard to answer. I understand what you're driving for, and I encourage you to keep at it. But the devil is in the details that we don't have before us.

    The logic you'll need is that of a dilemma. Here's an illustration from M. Scott Peck in his book The Road Less Traveled. He describes how underwent the sort of change you're talking about:

    Here's the bare-bones logic of the dilemma:

    A. I want to form a closer relationship with my daughter.
    B. I want to play serious chess.
    If I do A, I can't do B.
    If I do B, I can't do A.

    This forces the character to weigh the values of A and B, and choose between them.
     
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  5. Jak of Hearts
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    Jak of Hearts Member

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    JayG, I agree with you that a story doesn't need subtlety, its needs action; however, a character's development does need to be subtle because real people don't change drastically, they change slowly. Characters that change too much and too fast come off as unrealistic. The reader needs to see every step of the change. How much/fast they change has nothing to do with what you throw at them (building fires, dropping bodies, etc) just that the reactions are consistent with the character and they develop accordingly.
     
  6. AsherianCommand
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    AsherianCommand Active Member

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    WARNING THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS! IF YOU HAVE NOT PLAYED SPEC OPS THE LINE OR SEEN LORD OF THE RINGS! DO NOT READ THIS POST!

    I think the best character example of a very unsubtle change is Captain Walker from Spec Ops: The Line, or The Colonel in Heart of Darkness (From Victor Conrad), being one of the most drastic changes.

    Where they go from this gun tottling machine gun killing machine soldier who wishes to do good, to a man who murders innocent on a whim. That is drastic character development.

    You can do subtle, but it takes a very long time. An example of this would be Gollum, I mean it takes a long time for him to change, nothing drastic changes him in the beginning (later it does)

    I think you should do both! Subtle and Drastic changes should be used in conjunction. It adds character and makes the journey and the reading more worth it. But eh thats my view. I Agree with all the points that have been made here!

    Good luck!
     
  7. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    I think you're making a basic error in thinking that you're telling a story, and that what you place into it defines it, as would the changes you want to place in yours. But we don't tell the story, we loan the reader our imagination to play a game of lets pretend and live the story. Done right the reader becomes the protagonist and lives the story in real time. The character changes only because there are reasons s/he must change. And the changes that matter the most aren't slow. They're incremental, abrupt, and made of necessity, so the reader, in their role of protagonist, changes as well.
     
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  8. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Well I think subtlety adds to the realism. When I think of subtle development, I don't imagine subtle action or circumstances, but growth that feels so natural that we don't really notice. As @JayG pointed out, it should be in real-time; the reader should feel like they are along for the ride. Most people don't notice when they have changed until some pivotal point down the line, so readers should not be able to notice blatant jumps in characterization. The growth should be traceable, but invisible during the reading, except at a few pivotal points in which the protagonist reacts differently.

    As to how to show growth, I think it is a mix between intense and subtle encounters that have realistic affects on the characters. For example. Luke Skywalker changes drastically and obviously, but it makes sense due to his extreme environment. However, we notice his growth the most in smaller situations such as him behaving more like a leader than a student in Return of the Jedi. It's not just by seeing his skill with a light-saber improve.

    In general, people change when they are tested. If you want to show the result of each test, you might want to consider the scene and sequel approach, which is basically action/event followed by characters reacting to it. They don't have to know exactly what they're supposed to be learning though. The just need to respond , or feel the impact of what happened, and when faced with a similar situation later in the story, they approach it differently. Then, they might realize they've changed a little bit, or someone else might point it out to them.

    I hope that answers your question to some degree. I didn't really do it much justice here...
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2014
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  9. Lae
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    Lae Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you all for the comments, they will be helpful when i start really getting into the plot.

    Starwars is probably a good parallel to draw on, if you consider my protagonist a cross between a young anakin and luke skywalker and my antagonist Darth Sidious only less inherently evil.

    I want to portray the effects of the antagonist on the protagonist but also the effects the protagonist has on his companions, the protag starts off lower than the others much like anikin but quickly becomes more important than them, thats the first change (sort of like a coworker become your boss) and to be honest that isnt too hard.

    The second change being his effect on them as he realises his own importance in the universe, in short many people will die fighting wars etc to keep him safe/capture him, he struggles with confidence and conscience as their leader i want to portray their struggle with validating his leadership but also remaining loyal AND understanding/accepting his importance

    The third is when they are torn between following his/universe or humanities best interest, they could loose their homeworld and families if they follow him. To paraphrase doing the right thing or the thing that matters most to you.

    These big events are not that problematic, the reaction of all the characters to the first change is wildly different from the last, its the the subtle changes in between that make the difference plausible is what im struggling with. I just dont want it to seem that at the critical moment they make xyz decision because its the right choice, i want people to feel like they (all characters) would make that decision anyway regardless. Then i might play around with the plot a bit :D
     
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  10. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Well one quote that helped me, though it's still rater ambiguous, is this: "The ending of a story should be surprising, but inevitable." While you are not talking about the end per se, the characters choices should also be surprising and inevitable. Tailor the circumstances to strong arm them into their choices. It is sort of a deterministic view, but it works. If near the beginning, they are forced into it, and by the end they are choosing to be in it, then there is chartable growth. Everything in between, the subtle development, will probably come from mixing major interactions an minor interactions and continually giving your characters choices and emotions. Try getting into their minds and how they would think of things and that might help you.

    Another useful tip I got was to make a scene map or at least map out your character arc. Dialogue reveals character, so you can look at your scenes and plot points of where you want your character to show growth. From there deciding on catalysts to enable growth may become more clear.
     
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  11. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Once again, drastic changes PLUS subtle changes prove to be more interesting than one or the other ;)
     
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  12. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    Well said. I think Anthony Burgess hit it perfectly when he said, “A character, to be acceptable as more than a chess piece, has to be ignorant of the future, unsure about the past, and not at all sure of what he is supposed to be doing.”

    Iron is brought to strength through a combination of heat and pressure. No one asks the iron if it wants to go through that hell. Nor do we ask our characters if they want to be thrust into the forging process. We just do it, sadistic bastards that we are. And we take our readers along for the experience.

    So screw being subtle. Pour on the heat and whack the protagonist and the reader with a huge damn hammer. Give them reason to change. Forget about hoping they'll notice. Hit them over the head with the reason for the change, and they'll get it...and pay you for the abuse.

    Is this a great profession, or what?
     
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