This is the last segment of my Character Do's and Don'ts, so without further ado, let's explore some aspects of the character arc.
CHARACTER DO'S AND DON'TS Part 3
Today I’m going to talk about bringing a protagonist from point A—the person he is—to point B—the person he will become. For the purposes of this post, the changee is going to be the hero. In fact, I’m going to give my hero a name. Sam.
The reason Sam is at point A is because it’s the most effective way for him to deal with life. It may not be the best way, but as far as he’s concerned, it works. It’s a method he’s developed by trial and error throughout his life and he’s sticking with it. Because it works. (Sam can be a bit stubborn at times, but aren’t we all when it comes to change.)
Change is hard. We tend to resist change. DO make certain your character does the same. If Sam wants to remain single, it’s unlikely that he’s suddenly going to fall for the heroine and decided to marry her in a week’s time. He might be attracted, but since this feeling is counterproductive to his goal of remaining single, he’s going to fight the attraction. DO make certain it’s a good fight. This creates inner conflict which in turn makes for an interesting read.
Why do we change? Either because we have to or we want to. Changes we make because we have to may not be true changes. We’re nice to the boss we don’t like, even though we'd rather tell him off, because our job depends on him. When we quit, we tell him what we really think. We didn’t really change. We faked it for survival.
Change that comes about because we realize that our initial goal is no longer valid is more permanent. We change because we want to. The hero, who wants to remain single for whatever reason, eventually comes to realize that his life is better with a partner.
DON’T make it easy. Have you ever read a book where the lead character changes close to the end for no apparent reason and then you, as the reader, as supposed to believe the change is permanent? I never do. I’m a fan of two steps forward, one step back in my character arcs. Then when the change comes, I believe it. The hero has fought change the entire way, but now, finally, he can accept it.
How does he fight change? First comes knee-jerk resistance. Hmm. Resistance isn’t working. He comes up with a quick fix. Stay away from the heroine. That doesn’t work. Then he allows himself to briefly experience whatever he’s been fighting against, leading to “Maybe that wasn’t so bad,” followed by “Egad, what are you thinking?” and a giant step back. The hero’s strategy for handling life is deeply ingrained. He’s not going to let it go easily. He tries to continue along his old path, except…now he knows what the new path feels like. And it felt kind of good. But going that route demands a sacrifice on his part. He has to give up or modify old beliefs, old habits, old goals and motivations. He has to change to experience the new path again in a more permanent way. Does he want to do that? What is he giving up? Is the change worth the sacrifice? These are the hero’s questions as he progresses through his arc, edging ever closer to his new self.
DON’T make the change too quick…but be aware that it’s totally legal to make the change feel quick to the character. I’ve read books where the hero is unaware of how much he’s changing, but the reader is aware because the author has demonstrated the changes through actions. The hero clings stubbornly to his old mindset while subconsciously taking small detours down a new path. When he acknowledges his feelings, it’s like a lightning bolt to him, and the reader is relieved that he’s finally figured it out. *Sigh*
Harlequin Superromance author Jeannie Watt lives in rural Nevada and writes fast-paced, character driven stories set in the western United States. Her latest story, Once a Champion (book one of The Montana Way series), is a June 2013 release.
To find out more about Jeannie and her books, please visit her website.