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Is it a requiement that a MC must change dramatically or even moderately in a novel?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ronald T., Nov 19, 2015.

  1. Ronald T.

    Ronald T. Troubadour

    I would like some input on this issue if you're willing to share your thoughts.

    I've noticed that some people feel very strongly that a MC should have an altered outlook on life by the end of a story. In some cases that is probably what a reader is looking for. But to my mind, that is only true in certain types of stories. For the most part, I disagree with that sentiment.

    Let me explain.

    I read a book, or a book series, because I enjoy the MC and the various supporting characters. I have no desire for them to be someone different by the end of the story. Too often, when that happens, I'm not all that impressed with who they've become.

    Just think about your favourite TV shows and movies. At the end of the episode or movie, don't you almost always find that the MCs are the same people they were when the story began. They usually have more information and a stronger experience base, but they're still the same person they always were. They don't vary from who they were, and that's because most people read about those characters, or continue to watch certain TV shows or movies because they like the MCs just as they are.

    A handful of times, the writers of a TV show I enjoyed decided to be clever and change the MC dramatically. And in those few examples, I lost interest and stopped watching the show. It was no longer the show I found entertaining at the beginning.

    Perhaps I'm a bit of an anomaly, but I want my MCs to be true to their nature. In other words, I have no desire to see a major character-arc shift in the MCs. Too often, it has the potential to ruin things for me.

    But what do I know? I'm just a hermit in the woods.

    As always, my best to you all.

  2. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    I don't think that Sherlock Holmes had some dramatic change in character. Certain things about him changed but I wouldn't call it night and day by any means. This seems to be common with a lot of detective novels. The detective has their personality, quirks and all, and the reader expects that character to be close to the same from novel to novel.
    Ronald T. likes this.
  3. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    True, and I agree.

    However, I don't think that it will be helpful to assume an either/or dichotomy. "MC change" is not always intended to mean an extreme change. A character can grow, develop, learn new roles, modify his beliefs, without losing his essential personality.
  4. Velka

    Velka Sage

    I think it all depends on what kind of story you're telling. A plot based story, like many detective stories don't need significant character growth because the story is all about "who did it". I love Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe series - Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are pretty static characters who I adore because of their very unique personalities (I would be very upset if Nero went from a being a crotchety agoraphobic to a congenial extrovert), but the story is all about how they solve the mystery.

    I believe that character driven stories need character change, because it's that change which drives the story. It doesn't have to be drastic (nun turns into a puppy kicking baby eater), but it has be there to create a sense of movement. Life always changes people, and a lot of the events we put our characters through will change them in subtle, but meaningful ways.
    Xitra_Blud likes this.
  5. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

    It's certainly possible for characters to have a flat arc, as opposed to positive or negative change arcs. Most of the examples I've seen involve the character being a moral center and trying to change the world around them.
  6. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    Even if the character is there mainly to give us an intimate perspective on the world in which the story takes place in, they can still be enjoyable.
  7. Miskatonic

    Miskatonic Auror

    Nero Wolfe is awesome. I also loved the TV adaptation.
  8. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    The general consensus at the moment seems to be that, if you're writing to the market, episodic stories with unchanging characters aren't the fashionable choice.

    As far as actual data on reader expectations: One of the repeat negative comments that I received in my reviews was the my characters outside the protagonist did not change enough. I got no comments that said, "Hey, I really liked that you kept the side characters pretty static!"

    Limited sample size, obviously, so take it as you will. As for me, I'm taking it to mean that my readers want character change.

    If, on the other hand, you're writing what you want, then just write what you want.
  9. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    Well, if you start out with very annoying characters, immature characters, abrasive characters, and so forth, and they are all you have....You'll probably want to have more "character change" as the novel progresses.

    But if you start out with really cool, exciting, interesting characters, you might not need as much "character change."

    Edit: I'm thinking also about those character sliders previously discussed elsewhere. A character with sympathy/likeability and proactivity amped way up from the beginning probably will not require much change, even if he's only average in competency; e.g., Indiana Jones. But a character with mid-range or low-range sliders for all three variables–sympathy, proactivity, competence–may grow to be annoying if no change occurs, particularly for an MC.
    Last edited: Nov 19, 2015
  10. Russ

    Russ Istar

    I think the answer depends on what kind of work you are writing.

    IIRC you are writing an epic multi-volume fantasy?

    I would suggest that in kind of work a change in character along the way is necessary. There are basically two reasons I say that.

    The first is that it simply makes sense. In an epic fantasy you are going to expose your MC to all sorts of challenges, changes, events, horrors, creatures and experiences. Such things change people. People don't remain static in the face of significant stimuli. If you think about the classic structure, leaving the "normal world" and facing challenges etc that changes people. Why have a mentor if the mentor doesn't change you? Why face a test if it doesn't change you or equip you for the next phase of the journey? To me characters faced with significant world changing events who don't change simply do not ring true.

    The second reason is that it is satisfying. If your MC has to face internal flaws or his own foibles along the way, getting past them should change your MC, usually for the better. I believe that the reader wants to feel that they can overcome the flaws in themselves to become better people and that permanent positive personal gains can be made in the fast of adversity. It is a uplifting human message that resonates with all people. Even failure, done correctly, can be uplifting to the reader.

    Now, as I said above, what you are writing is an important answer to the question. If you are writing something episodic you might not want to change the MC. Right now I am watching the original Maverick series. I don't want James Garner's character to change significantly over the series and I don't think he will. But that is a very different kind of entertainment than an epic fantasy book or even movie. But most of my favourite books and movies feature characters who change in response to their life events.

    So, generally, I think MC's should change over the course of a book or a series of books.
  11. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    Characters don't have to change. BUT they should have their beliefs and ideals challenged. In dramatica theory of writing they have a character type called the Contagonist. Their purpose is to temp and distract. Dramatica Definition: Contagonist | Dramaticapedia

    If a MC believes say your prayers, take your vitamins and you will never go wrong, then they should have that ideal challenged in some way. They can be temped away from that. They can see someone not doing those things and never going wrong causing them to question their belief.

    In the end, the MC holds fast to their ideals and is proven right for doing so. They have resisted temptation.
  12. Devouring Wolf

    Devouring Wolf Troubadour

    I agree with Russ, it depends on what you're working on. I would argue that TV shows for their episodic nature are quite different from books or movies which have clearly established beginnings, middles, and ends.

    For things that have definite beginnings and endings, characters are supposed to change, or at the very least, the audience wants to discover new things about the character. It's more about character depth, than change really. For example I have a character in my story who doesn't change at all, but in the beginning he seems evil and cold and later in the story we find out that there's a reason behind this. He as a character never changed, he is still evil and cold, but by revealing new information, I am changing the audience's understanding of him. Instead of someone to be hated, he becomes someone to be pitied.

    A lot of characters go through changes because it shows why the story mattered. Stories are about characters, and if the things that happen in the plot don't effect and change them, why should we as the reader care. If a main character's lover leaves him, that should change his attitude in some way. He should feel sad (or maybe happy, who knows?). Maybe he'll try to find himself someone better to make her jealous,maybe her leaving him will make him realize how much he loved her and he'll stop taking people for granted, maybe the way she did it will make him afraid of commitment, but if his girlfriend leaves him, he cries, and then the next day everything's just as it was sans the girlfriend, I would wonder why she even mattered in the first place. She didn't effect the character so why did the author include her?

    That being said, I understand what you're saying about extreme changes. I want to feel like I'm reading about a wiser more grown up version of the character the book started with not a whole new character. The changes shouldn't be new things so much as things that were already inside of them. A character should learn the ability to show compassion rather than gaining compassion. You can't just gain compassion if you never had it.
    Russ likes this.
  13. Ronald T.

    Ronald T. Troubadour

    Thank you so much for your thoughtful opinions. It's always a treat to hear your take on the various issues that are posted on this forum. It has been an unexpected education for me since the first time I became aware of this sight. So, my deeply felt thanks to you each of you.

    And I hope every one of you have a wonderful holiday season.

    As always, my best to you all.

    From the hermit in the woods,

  14. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    Is it a requiement that a MC must change dramatically or even moderately in a novel?

    Short answer: No.
    Long answer: Nope.

    But seriously, don't ever let anyone tell you that such and such is a requirement for storytelling. There are no requirements for storytelling. You can do it however you want.

    Most of the time when someone starts saying that stories require this and that, what they really mean is that stories they personally respond to have this and that. And they mistake their personal taste for a fundamental element of storytelling.
    Ronald T. and arboriad like this.
  15. arboriad

    arboriad Scribe

    Orson Scott Card indicates that there are four types of novel; milieu, idea, character, and event. While there is often overlap, occurrence you need a strong base around whish to spin your story.

    In an event story like 'Indiana Jones', the whole point is that he's a fixed character whom we enjoy, and through whom we can enjoy his escapades.

    I think that 'Hamlet' might count as a character story, but even so, the fundamental person we have come to love doesn't change.

    Like to your point, if a character changes to such a point that they're no longer the same person, then there's a chance of losing the connection to the story. Any character change should be consistent with the character's potential to be believable. :)

    Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G920A using Tapatalk
    Ronald T. and Seraphim like this.

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