"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.
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?