How Characters Can Change
While still on the theme of characters and deep characterisation last week, it’s worth looking at how characters are affected by the events in your story and how characters actually change by the end of it.
Many beginners who are not familiar with different layers of characterisation don’t always develop their main characters, so they end up with the same character at the end of the story as they did at the beginning. While this might seem consistent, it doesn’t develop the character’s story arc. No character should remain unchanged.
Your main characters, and some of your secondary ones, will absolutely change and develop throughout the story because of the different escalating events that occur, the range of emotions they have to deal with and the reactions they have towards the event and each other. If they don’t change in some way, then the reader won’t see the character as believable, and they won’t connect with that character or have any empathy.
Just like real people, characters can change their behaviours, their mindsets, their views and their opinions.
What affects your characters?
We write characters to reflect real people in extraordinary situations. We show them at their most vulnerable moments, we give them almost impossible events to deal with, we force them to react and adapt to their situations and other characters, we change their course and steer them into trouble and we make them do it over and over.
It’s all the things we as writers can throw at them, it’s all the situations and events they experience and it’s all about the emotions and conflicts they feel as they deal with these events that really affect who they are.
How do they change?
Events and situations change them. When your character is confronted with tragedy, it will affect him or her. The death of a loved one or a pet, losing a job or home and possessions, losing one’s freedom, losing everything...anyone who has undergone a similar event will know how deeply a sense of loss affects people. It always underscores a tragedy, and beneath all that lives that ever present sense of emotion, and conflict; whether it is anger, grief, sadness, withdrawal of emotion, or something else.
Where there is tragedy and trauma in your story, your characters will certainly change.
Another emotion that affects people is fear. Whether it’s a fear of situations, a fear of others, a fear of the unknown or a character’s own fears, that raw emotion will affect them in different ways, but ultimately it will show in their behaviour and their demeanour.
Where there is fear, your characters will react to it and their behaviours will change because of it.
Another thing that will change your characters is the sense of injustice – being accused of something they didn’t do, being punished for something while the real perpetrator goes free, watching terrible things take place and being unable to help, or seeing others suffer. This often leads to feelings of anger, bitterness and revenge, and how characters see the world may sometimes change, and not for the better.
Love can also change your characters. Love is complex; falling in love, falling out of love, loving someone at a distance, loving the wrong person, never finding love, not able to love oneself. Love can cause joy, it can cause anger and betrayal, jealousy or hate...love is the one emotion that can manipulate everyone. How your characters deal with it and what it does to them not only changes their behaviour, it can change the way they see the world and other people.
Whatever it is that sets that change in motion, make sure you show the reader how your character changes. This is done through their behaviour; their reactions to things, their inner thoughts, and of course, through dialogue. Maintain that connection with the reader through your character’s feelings, thoughts and emotions.
Life changing events in a story are just that – life changing. As a writer you have to show how those events affect your characters – not just the event itself, but also the after effects, whether they are physical, emotional, psychological or all three.