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Should Your Character Change?

Tweet: In your story, it is highly suggested that your main character undergo some form of change by the end. #storybuildingblocks #writingtips

The change can be life-altering or subtle. It can be a change for the better or worse.

It is open for debate if antagonists or secondary characters undergo change of their own.

If one person shifts, it creates ripples in the people around them.

Dick is going along, minding his own business, when - Wham - life throws him a curve ball (i.e. the inciting incident) and his life will never be the same.

Along the way, as he battles obstacles to achieve the overall story goal, he undergoes some form of change: from arrogant to humble, naive to wise, weak to strong, cowardly to brave, misunderstood to understood, adolescent to adult. 

These changes result in an up ending if they are positive. 

If Dick changes for the worse, you have a down ending.

What makes Dick willing to change? 

Depends on the story stakes, the types of obstacles he will face, and the genre you are writing in. The change may be subtle in a Literary tale and overt in a Fantasy tale.

Some endings are a little bit of both.

Dick can be compelled by an authority figure or social group to change, but he himself was not really motivated to change. For instance, he may be court ordered to do community service that opens his eyes to the plight of the underprivileged. He might be ordered by a commanding officer or boss to do something that transgresses his value system and he fights against the order, but eventually gives in because he isn’t willing to endure the price of the alternative. This results in an up-down ending.

Dick might change to escape criticism or banishment from people he cares about, a group he belongs to, or a corporation he has built. At his core, he may never agree to what is being asked of him, but he does it because he must to maintain the status quo or obtain the story goal, which also delivers an up-down ending. If he is being forced to do something healthy, this is an up ending. If he accepts things that are unhealthy, it is a down ending.

Jane may enter the story knowing that she needs to make a change: she needs to leave her unsatisfying job, leave her empty marriage, or stop selling narcotics because she has seen the needle and the damage done. The overall story problem makes the situation worse so that Jane has no choice but to change. This results in an up ending. If Jane knows that she has to make a change that is detrimental to her psyche, it results in a down ending.

Sally may change because she can no longer tolerate the situation she is in, the feelings she is carrying around, or the pain of the status quo. She must change because she simply cannot bear the alternative any more. She was near the breaking point and the inciting incident makes the choice unavoidable. This usually results in an up ending, unless the change she was contemplating was a bad one.

Just as the overall story arc has its ups and downs, so do scenes. A scene can have an up or down ending. 

These undulations make the story ride enjoyable. They keep the reader wanting to know how it will all end. Characters that are static throughout a story are boring and hard to root for.

SBB Revision Tips

For more tips on how to craft believable characters, pick up a copy of Story Building Blocks II: Crafting Believable Conflict available in paperback and E-book, and Story Building Blocks: Build A Cast Workbook, also available in paperback and E-book.

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