Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Only Constant in Life is Change, or Something Cheesy Like That

"Only the extremely ignorant or the extremely wise can resist change." -- Socrates

    If we've heard it once -- and we've all heard it once -- we've heard it one-point-three million times: 

    Characters need to face significant growth by the end of a novel.

    Well, sure.  I'm not denying that.  After all, if Scrooge had been a total cad at the end of A Christmas Carol and let Tiny Tim ("God blesh us, ev'ry one!") die, the story probably wouldn't make such a warm, fuzzy Christmas movie/play. 

    But.

    Not all characters are Scrooge, you know what I'm saying?

    Characters need to change.  Like Socrates said, only morons and brilliant people resist change -- and a lot of main characters don't fully fit into either category.  Practically everything that makes characters themselves are their personalities, actions, reactions, quirks.  And if you remove all of those traits from the equation, what's left? 

    A boring imposter-of-the-original character that, quite frankly, I don't want to read about. 

    Example time -- and that means if you haven't read the books about the bolded characters, I don't know if you'll want to read their paragraphs.  I'm not spoiling plot events, exactly, but I do go through the character growth in the books.

    Artemis Fowl changed throughout his series, making friend and becoming less cold and ruthless.  But he's still sly and calculating, and unafraid of lying or manipulation.  If he'd become a total softie throughout the books, I wouldn't like his character anymore (because really, he's really more interesting when he's being cold and ruthless). 

    Maximum Ride became softer throughout her series, too.  Sometimes against her will, she became warmer, friendlier, and more emotional.  She isn't always exactly happy about these developments, but her character has changed -- grown -- so she deals.  I don't always like Max's weaker side -- slightly annoying, if you catch my drift.  I'm the tough one, I don't know why I'm crying, I can count the times I've cried in front of these kids on one hand, blah, blah, blah.  But it's usually fine. 

    Tally Youngblood (Uglies series) -- okay, this one's kind of a doozy, and it's not even completely Tally's fault.  (This one actually has spoilers.  Close your eyes if necessary.)  In Uglies, thanks to society standards, Tally considered herself worthless and hideous, but knew she'd be amazing once she got the pretty-making operation for her sixteenth birthday.  By the end of the book, after a nice little visit with some rebels, she decides she doesn't need any operation and that real is beautiful.  However, she also volunteers to be turned pretty so she can test a cure -- and thanks to the surgery, forgets all about her whole "natural beauty/brainwashing is bad" epiphany.  She's a vapid, self-absorbed pretty now.  Once she gets the cure -- cough -- she's back to her pre-surgery, post-Smoke self again.  Then she gets turned into a Special, and she's arrogant, ruthless, and cold, determined to keep everything under the city's control.  She cures herself from being Special and finally finds her own way of thinking, free from any surgery or city-manufactured thinking.  Major growth-rollercoaster there.  Three- steps-forward-four-steps back-five-steps-forward kind of thing, yes?  Even though I halfway hate Tally for what she inadverently did to Zane (who's one of my listed Favorites), I still like her and her growth arc okay. 

    Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) used to be a happy little girl.  Then her dad got blown up and her mom turned worthless.  It was up to Katniss to ensure her and her little sister's survival, and she ended up cold and hard, a total survivor.  (Spoilers coming from here on out.)  She ended up softening a tad around Peeta, then slightly insane after her sister's death, and back to her normal, less-distant self again.  One could definitely say her growth arc is more of a wave, though not as erratic as Tally's.

    Dustfinger (Inkheart) was a roaming fire-eater in his own world.  He had a wife, two daughters, and a stellar way with flames -- and then Mo read him out of his world.  To get back home, Dustfinger's willing to lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, and generally throw morals out the window.  But he's only doing it to get to his family again, and he tries to fix the problems his double-crossing starts.  Basically, he's good if you're helping him, bad if you're not, a character with flexible morals and a generally good heart.  (He's a Favorite, too.)

    Characters usually change in their stories -- sometimes drastically, sometimes subtly -- but not too much.  Because if they do, they lose what makes them them.  I'm not saying your Twihard-axe-murderer protagonist should still be going around chopping people up at the end of the book(s) -- certainly that first bit needs to change.  But maybe your jewelry thief should still have a weakness for emeralds; maybe your MC still chews other characters out.  (Lame examples there, I know.  Oh well.)

    Do you agree with this, or are you for the characters being reformed by the end of the story? 

11 comments:

Amaranthine said...

Ayi! I love your blog and I love this post and you love maximum ride and Artemis Fowl!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Of course characters need to change throughout the course of the novel! That's like the whole point of a novel! When the characters change the readers often change as well. ;)

You can always tell who the main character in a novel is by who changes!
Artemis didn't JUST become a total softie and less cold and ruthless. He learned that the meaning of life wasn't about riches and gold and power, it was PEOPLE! He learned that people, love, friendship, and family are more important then wealth and power and riches.
And that was a great lesson to learn. ;)

I think a lot of Maximum's lesson was learning to give up control. At first she wanted to handle everything herself, but then she realized she wasn't invincible and unbreakable and had to learn to give it up.

I don't know if you share this, but we all interpret character's differently! That's what makes them so awesome.

I love your blog. Did I say that already?

I just read Fang. Angel is so creepily awesome! I wanted to CRY! I also just read Atlantis Complex. I"m sad cause of Vinyaya, but Orion was HILARIOUS!

OH and I really really really didn't like Inkheart. I wrote a review of it that was bad. ;)

Artemis Fowl is hilarious! :D Colfer is the MASTER of not reforming a character too much. LIke in the first book he returned the gold, but only half of it ;)

Sunny Smith said...

Nice post. At first I was like "where's she going with this...", but I figured it out by the end.

Characters should change in one or two aspects of their personalities, but it's agreed, complete metamorphosis is a bit of a let down.

Liz. R said...

I completely agree. If Artemis Fowl turned into a complete do-gooder with no more shady money-making schemes, I'd have stopped reading the series. Part of the reason I love his character so much is BECAUSE of his more crooked side, and if he were completely reformed, then that side would be gone. Same with Katniss - it would have been so weird if she changed completely! I do think, of course, that there always has to be some kind of growth - characters can't remain static, because that would be boring - but I agree with you that they shouldn't change too much.

Shayleen said...

This is a great subject and something that I've struggled with. I guess I need to work a bit more with character growth. :P So far my main character hasn't really had any character growth...
Great post! :)

The Story Queen said...

Oh my goodness, I'm just trying to imagine Artemis Fowl NOT scheming and arrogant. I can't do it.

It's never a good idea to have too little (or no) growth. I mean, humans are shaped by the events that take place in their lives so unless nothing happens in your book, why wouldn't the character change? Also, if nothing happens in your book, why the heck would anyone want to read it? (That's a proverbial you, by the way - I'm not speaking to you here LOL).

Then on the other hand, if a character does a complete 180 for no apparent reason (I mean Tally is obviously a special case) then it just seems unrealistic.

Great examples in this post :)

Jenna Blake Morris said...

Amaranthine -- Really great point with how Artemis and Max changed! I like that you pointed out Max had to learn to give up control sometimes -- I honestly hadn't thought about that aspect. And interpretation is amazing! Especially interpretive endings. Random, I know, but I had to say it. (:

Thanks -- I love yours! Your "what I want to do with the rest of my life" post seriously made me laugh.

I haven't read *Atlantis Complex* yet -- haven't gotten to the library in waaay too long -- but *Fang* was great. I loved how open and indecisive the ending was. And Angel -- eek. I mean, her powers are awesome, and she makes some good points, but her issues with power are definitely creepy. I'm about halfway through *Angel*, though, so the verdict's still out.

I liked *Inkheart* -- but I liked *Inkdeath* much, much better. And my mom hated the first book and only got about 20 pages in. Another one of those interpretation things. (: I've got to go read that review now, though.

And the gold stunt -- typical and great. I think it was the perfect way to show Artemis was still Artemis.

Sunny -- Thanks! Glad it made some sense.

Liz -- Me too. I love Artemis's evil mastermind side -- it seems really fresh, and I'd definitely be disappointed if that was over.

Shayleen -- I don't have enough character growth, either. I'm in the middle of edits, and I was planning on tweaking the beginning chapters anyway, so now I need to address that. Good luck, and thanks!

Story Queen -- Yeesh, I can't either. Even the name "Artemis Fowl" screams deviously smart Irish boy to me now. Gotta love characterization and branding...

Very great point. A character with no growth is not only boring, but unrealistic. And I totally get the proverbial thing, no worries.

I came really close to making a lame pun about Tally's case being special -- *Special* -- but gave myself a virtual slap across the hand before it came to that. Thankfully.

Thanks!

Taylor Lynn said...

I agree - I think characters should probably still have their recognizable traits at the end, but they SHOULD change and grow, definitely. :)

I read the first of the "Uglies" series, but I didn't love it enough to read the rest. So I didn't mind the spoilers. (I figured she'd forget her "natural beauty/brainwashing is bad epiphany" after the surgery. xD)

Of course, I've only read the first Hunger Games book. (I put the other two at the top of my birthday wishlist. My birthday is in five days. I CAN'T WAIT TO READ THEM!) So I started reading about Katniss. Then I read the spoiler about her sister and decided to skip ahead. xD LOL Silly me for reading. ;)

But Dustfinger? He's AWESOME! One of my all-time favorite characters, definitely. :) I knew I loved him (best character in the Inkheart series!) but I forgot a lot about him. I just reread "Inkheart", and I need to get "Inkspell" to reread because I don't own it yet. And I remembered why I like him: I think it's because he's such a different character. 1) He's awesome and plays with fire. 2) Even though he's technically a traitor, you feel bad for him because all he's trying to do is get home.
Basically, he's one of the best characters - him and Farid. :) (I like the fire eaters. xD)

But I'll stop rambling now... ;D

Jenna Blake Morris said...

Taylor -- Happy early birthday! And agreed, Dustfinger is awesome. I think you're right with how different he is making him an interesting character. I loved how, throughout *Inkheart*, half the time I couldn't tell if he was good or bad. And it ended up that he was neither. I liked Farid, too! So the ending of *Inkdeath* irritated me a little, but I understand it.

Taylor Lynn said...

Thanks! :D

I know, I think I had some trouble figuring him out the first time around, too. ;) It's been a long time since I read "Inkdeath", but I'm guessing the event you're talking about is either Dustfinger's sacrifice for Farid (not exactly sure where that falls chronologically, though) or the way the book was sort of left open, as if inviting another in the series. But I'm assuming you're probably referring to my first guess, all things considered. ;)

Jenna Blake Morris said...

Those are good points, but I meant the whole "Doria" thing. Until it came down to it, I wouldn't have seen that coming.

Taylor Lynn said...

Ah! Then I must sound rather silly. :) I really need to reread "Inkspell" and "Inkdeath"... I only remember an inkling of the whole "Doria" thing. :/ (Pun sort-of intended! ;)