1. writinghelp

    writinghelp New Member

    Jan 24, 2015
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    Long-term character development

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by writinghelp, Jan 24, 2015.

    In a longer running story, how do authors continue to demonstrate a character's constant growth without reaching a plateau midway through the story?

    Especially for a main character in a story, where the character is constantly under the reader's attention and always undergoing situations and meeting people that change the way s/he thinks, how do you continue to make your protagonist evolve as a person without hitting a point where it's like, "well, she's resolved most of her original fears and insecurities, and she's become a pretty decent person. now what?"

    Maybe I'm looking at this wrong, but I feel like after a certain point, continuing to see the character make bad choices or fall back on old fears or habits might feel stale and repetitive. As a reader, I know I sometimes feel disappointed when a character in a story just doesn't seem to learn from his/her mistakes. But at the same time, if they shift their attitude too quickly, it feels rushed and unrealistic... so I think it's difficult.

    What elements do you introduce to your story, or what techniques do you use to continue to make a character evolve and progress in a believable way?

    I'm a very beginner writer just starting to try this as a hobby, so I would really welcome any tips and pointers you might have.
  2. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

    Jan 28, 2014
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    Consider your own life and how you've learned. You could have him think, "Wait a minute, that didn't work last time, I'll try it differently now." And maybe that works only part way but he gains more knowledge/insight he can use when the next problem hits. Or he can have a conversation with another character who challenges his previous misconceptions about something or someone, and later on, he can accept that new perspective, and sometime after that, reason from it to even broader realizations, etc., etc.

    Your character doesn't have to keep making bad choices, just give him new challenges and choices that his previous experience might or might not cover. And personality traits and personal goals that might or might not lead him to apply his prior knowledge.

    And make sure that what happens to him really affects him and who he is. I'm revising a novel I completed ages ago. I always thought the characters needed some improvement. But it was worse than that. It was crap, because the events in the story didn't have much impact on the characters, I was just yanking them from scene to scene on my authorial leash. So they ended up pretty much as they began. I've changed that by now. Hope so, anyway.
  3. hvb

    hvb Member

    Aug 20, 2013
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    Queensland, Australia
    Mind you, I have no published novel to indicate any particular rights on my part to comment, but whenever I feel something isn't right or boring, I know I need to get some excitement happening.

    For me, there has to be a logic to the progression. I am a plotter, so I know where I am going and have plot points in place. The personal growth of my character has to fit into that structure, in a way that is not only plausible, but makes the reader want to turn the pages to see what will happen next. You can introduce an event, a person, a challenge, a disaster, a battle, external or internal, a family tragedy. It all depends what sort of life your character has and the genre of your novel, but if you feel it is getting repetitive, it is. I love K.M.Weiland's advice: ask yourself : what if.... and come up with the most weird and wonderful things that could be happening and pick the one you like best.

    Catrin Lewis likes this.
  4. EdFromNY

    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

    Jun 13, 2010
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    Queens, NY
    Some people never learn from their mistakes, so there's nothing unusual about that. Your problem is how to keep the reader engrossed in a story in which the main character doesn't grow and learn. There are lots of reasons for people to not to change - false hopes, misleading guidance, and good, old-fashioned missteps. If your goal is to write a tragedy, you hold out hope to the reader that your mc will see the light and then dash it. If you plan to write a story of triumph, you lead the reader along a tortuous path and then provide the triumphant denouement at the appropriate time.

    Chasing the wrong goal is often an excellent tool in a long tale. In Advise and Consent, Bob Munson spends 90% of the novel trying to get the President's nominee for Secretary of State approved, only to find out at the last that he doesn't (in Drury's opinion) deserve to be approved, offering to resign, and ultimately re-elected as Majority Leader. In Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, the major spends most of the novel trying to reunite both components of a matched pair of hunting rifles, only to find at the end that it doesn't matter. In 33 Variations, a daughter spends most of the play trying to protect her mother from falling victim to the ravages of ALS, only to realize at the end what her mother was trying to achieve and presenting the results of her research.

    But, yes. If your mc keeps making the same mistakes over and over, never learns, never pulls him/herself out...I can't speak for all readers, but I would at some point cry out, "Ass...hole!" and toss the work aside.
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  5. Bryan Romer

    Bryan Romer Contributor Contributor

    Jan 26, 2014
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    It also depends on the time scale of your story. If it all happens within 24 hours, there's not much time to learn or grow, save for perhaps one or two realisations before or at the end. On the other hand a story that follows half a lifetime has plenty of room for growth.

    Don't forget that at least for the first half of their life, most people are learning the basic things necessary to survive and prosper, on top of which they might learn how to be a better or more effective person. Day to day problems take up a lot of everyone's time and the necessary situations to drive a "eureka" moment are usually few and far between. Failing because of a lack of knowledge or skill or support is not the same as making the same mistake again and again.
    Catrin Lewis likes this.

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