Skip to main content

Exploring the Inner Journey of a Character's Transformation

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.

creating characters | plot versus character

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.

Buy Plot Versus Character now!

Did you enjoy this excerpt? If so, check out our other writing tips.

From Script

Character Studies, Writing the Immigrant Experience, and Six Adaptation Steps Before You Adapt a Book (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, navigate different character study approaches in your writing, and tracking emotional journeys.

Lora Senf: On Trusting Children With Middle Grade Fiction

Lora Senf: On Trusting Children With Middle Grade Fiction

Author Lora Senf discusses how one chilling text message led her to writing her new middle grade horror novel, The Clackity.

Katrina Leno: On Writing Around an Idea

Katrina Leno: On Writing Around an Idea

Critically acclaimed novelist Katrina Leno discusses the process of bringing her childhood memories to magical life in her new young adult novel, Sometime in Summer.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: A New Podcast Episode, "Your Story" Prompt, and More!

This week, we're excited to announce our latest episode of "Writer's Digest Presents," the new "Your Story" prompt, and more!

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2022

Writer's Digest Best Live Streams, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels 2022

Here are the top live streams, podcasts, and YouTube channels as identified in the 24th Annual 101 Best Websites from the May/June 2022 issue of Writer's Digest.

What Is Fan Fiction in Writing?

What Is Fan Fiction in Writing?

You might have heard the term, especially if you’re in online fandoms, but what exactly is fan fiction? Managing Editor Moriah Richard explains.

5 Ways To Use Short Stories To Grow as a Writer

5 Ways To Use Short Stories To Grow as a Writer

Short story writing can be a gateway to writing your novel—but they’re also fun and worthy stories in their own right. Here, author Dallas Woodburn shares 5 ways to use short stories to grow as a writer.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Having an Online Presence

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not having an online presence.

Shirlene Obuobi: On Writing From Experience

Shirlene Obuobi: On Writing From Experience

Physician, cartoonist, and author Shirlene Obuobi discusses the writerly advice that led to writing her new coming-of-age novel, On Rotation.