Publishers want to see character change in your novel. Getting back to a failed marriage or career is a popular choice for authors. Too popular. Is this really a change? Isn’t it a return to their past? Let’s look at some other options.
Dream Versus Reality
A character who has a dream but is following a different path presents a different possibility for character change.
The lead character wants to be a veterinarian but sees no options for getting a degree. They work as an assistant at an animal shelter and have learned to live without hope. Then what? Learns about student loans? Wins the lotto? Chases a big reward for information leading to the arrest of a vicious criminal? Helps someone with a big problem and is unexpectedly rewarded with a scholarship? There’s great potential for real character change when you bring life goal achievement into your story.
The Radical Conversion
The most common form of this is the religious conversion. There are others.
The religious conversion we hear the most about is to religion. A person realizes they need to change. They get tired of stints in jail, stays at rehab, or being broke from partying all the time. They get religion. It forbids the activities that cause those problems and their life improves. This is the good side of religion and it makes a good story to promote the religion.
The other kind of religious conversion is away from religion. When a religion fits in with everyday life naturally, there’s not much impetus to renounce it. On the other hand, there are fundamentalist and cult religious groups that control their followers like dictators. They have something to say about everything the faithful do. That control can feel like a prison. When it also affects important life choices negatively, it can lead to conversion out of the religion.
A personal anecdote might illustrate this better. I grew up in a fundamentalist family and dropped out of high school because Jesus was coming back any day. The reverend assured us the current pope was the Antichrist, so the end times were definitely here. That sounds so silly now. It made sense then. My life under fundamentalism was so depressing that I wanted to die and welcomed the end of the world. During my time without school, I had time to think. I thought my way out of fundamentalism. Then I went back and finished high school.
Political conversion between republican and democrat can be a big change. It is not unusual for someone to be a liberal-democrat when they are young and uncertain about the future. As they get older and more secure they become conservative-republican. On the other hand, a conservative-republican who sees a lot of human suffering may convert to a liberal-democrat.
Another radical conversion is in work type. For example, a laborer gets injured and is forced to switch to office work. Or a person in customer service has their fill of rude people and takes up a trade.
And Suddenly… A Family
A pregnancy leads to a marriage and suddenly the character’s life is completely different. They need to adapt to living with someone who takes an interest in almost everything they do. They need more money. They need to become more responsible.
Spontaneous Character Change
While you’re writing a novel, you will discover that sometimes the events of the story cause characters to change on their own. An altruistic character may be cheated of the results of their work for the sake of incompetents. A selfish character may see the harm done to others because of their behavior. A happy-go-lucky character can fall on hard times. An addict can see a friend die because of their addiction.
As you write stories, notice when character change accidentally makes its way in. Learn to use that deliberately in future stories. The more you learn to recognize and use character change, the more you will be able to produce stories with more meaning than the usual return to a failed marriage or career. You will become adept at character change with heart.
Article by Ivan Izo.