One key element in writing fiction is creating characters with which readers can identify. Today’s tip of the day is taken from Plot Versus Character by Jeff Gerke. The excerpt below, from chapter five, explains the inner journey of a character and why a character’s transformation can make or break your story.
Learn Why Character Transformation Matters
The best fiction is about a character who changes in some significant way.
The selfish brute learns to put others first. The woman marrying for money decides to marry for love. The career ladder climber learns to cut back on his hours to enjoy his family. The bitter old crone learns to let others in. The independent pilot of the Millennium Falcon learns to care about a cause. The owner of Rick’s Café American decides he will stick his neck out for somebody after all.
We love to see characters transformed–mainly because we are being transformed. We know the painful but liberating feeling of ceasing to be one way and beginning to be another, especially if the new way results in more success in relationships or other areas of life we value.
Most of the time, main characters in fiction are changing for the better. It’s uplifting to see someone make good choices and improve as a person. It’s like that your book will be about a character who changes for the best.
But there’s room for characters who change for the worse. Indeed, though they may lead to depressing, poor-selling books if given the lead role, these tragic characters are fascinating to watch. Before our very eyes, Roger in Lord of the Flies, Allie Fox in The Mosquito Coast, and Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars saga all devolve into villains. It’s terrible and we want them stop. But part of us doesn’t want them to stop.
Perhaps the most intriguing of all is a “bad” character who flirts for awhile with the idea of being good, then decides that his true self is on the dark side of the street. Gollum/Sméagol in The Lord of the Rings is a famous example.
Not every story has to be about a character who changes. Certainly we don’t expect much change from Indiana Jones. He simply is who he is. There are wonderful stories about characters who don’t change at all, whose character is so complete at the beginning of the tale that everyone else must change around her. Anne of Green Gables is a terrific example of this. Anne is out of step with everyone. She doesn’t fit in. And yet as those around her try to change her to conform, they discover that it is they who are in need of becoming a bit more like Anne. Forrest Gump, WALL-E, Don Quixote, and even Jesus Christ are the agents of change though they themselves do not transform.
But these characters are difficult to write well, and the needs of that type of story structure aren’t the focus of what we’re doing in this book.
Since we are starting from scratch with your character and book, we’re going to create a main character who changes. Whether her ultimate decision is to turn toward or away from the light will be up to you, but we’re definitely going to give her a journey in which she is transformed.
Did you enjoy this excerpt? If so, check out our other writing tips.