Are you the same person you were ten years ago? Five years? Two? Six months? Our experiences alter us—sometimes boldly, most times subtlely. As in real life, a fictional character must change in some way from the person he was on page one to the person he becomes by page three hundred or so.
For a writer, this means knowing your hero and heroine’s histories. What baggage do they carry into the story? What goals have been born out of their experiences? What warts have they developed along the way? And how can you use that background information to advance the plot of your story?
Consider the book Eragon by Christopher Paolini. In the beginning, Eragon is a poor boy living with his uncle and cousin, eaking out an existence on the outskirts of a small village, a hunter and farmer. By the end of the book, circumstances take him to places he’s never been and turn him into a warrior fighting to free his people from an evil ruler. That’s a bold change. But he also experiences more subtle growth. He starts out cocky and sure of himself, seeking revenge and expecting to find it. By the end of the book, his losses have helped to mature him. He’s a young man seeking the advice of those who are wiser. He has a lot to learn before he can become the Dragon Rider he was meant to be—the one his people need if they are to survive. All of which leads to the second and third books, Eldest and Brisingr.*
In an inspirational novel, transformation generally comes about as the character’s faith grows and he begins to see things from God’s perspective rather than his own or someone else’s.
It’s a gradual process throughout the book. If not, if the character has a sudden, drastic change of heart, we just don’t believe it. Recently, one of my critique partners felt the personality of a character in my story had changed too dramatically in too short a time. So during the rewrite, I will be looking closely at scenes involving this character, and how I can slow the pace of his turnaround.
Does a particular book stand out in your mind in which the main character has undergone a dramatic alteration from the beginning to the end? Did it seem natural, or did you doubt the character would change that much or that quickly?
*Originally called the Inheritance Trilogy, Mr. Paolini decided Eragon’s story needed a fourth book so the series now has the title Inheritance Cycle. Book Four is due out some time this year. See, when it comes to fiction, anything can change!