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Total posts: [34]
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How much Character Development is necessary?:

 1 Wolf 1066, Tue, 24th May '11 5:51:02 AM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
Character Development is often listed as a "must have" for any work, right up there with Conflict.

In reality, though, how much does a given character (say, the Protagonist) actually have to change throughout the course of the story?

Is it absolutely necessary that a character undergo some major life-altering change on the road to resolving the conflict within the story?

It would seem, from some writing advice I've seen, that they must.

OK, I can see how having to overcome a crippling fear of water in order to resolve the story arc, therefore learning something about themselves and becoming stronger and less fearful in the process, does wonders for enhancing the drama and conflict within the story (and it would certainly be a dead boring read if the protagonist just breezed through all the challenges) but does the protagonist's journey have to entail an Earth-shattering character shift?

Most of us face challenges every day without changing a hell of a lot in the process.

Is it possible to have a protagonist that changes very little throughout the course of the story and still resolves the plot's conflicts in an engaging/interesting/dramatic way?
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
Yes, there can be. More interesting, that.

I've tried to write a physically dynamic character (who is blinded and loses an arm), but who is emotionally and motivationally static. She might go through what are considered life-changing experiences, but she's still as self-serving and greedy as ever (though greedy for something else entirely than what drove her prior).

I think that, for a protagonist, at least a modicum of Character Development is necessary (but it doesn't have to be much, and exactly what gets developed can vary widely from writer to writer).
 
 3 annebeeche, Tue, 24th May '11 6:00:57 AM from by the long tidal river
watching down on us
I say no—all you need is a realistic, interesting character, he doesn't have to change.

Borghild doesn't change in my story. She is a three-dimensional character, but is static. She constantly wavers between two states of mind instead, which is part of her three-dimensionality, but it's part of her nature and not a result of a change in perspective.

edited 24th May '11 6:02:51 AM by annebeeche

Banned entirely for telling FE that he was being rude and not contributing to the discussion. I shall watch down from the goon heavens.
Characters do not have to develop through the story. It's just that, in most cases, it would not make much sense for them not to. Stories are usually about important things that change their life forever. These tend to change the way you see the world quite a bit. But no, they don't always have to.

The Puzzler
Enough to drive the plot forward.

Now as writers we tend to have different views on how this works. Some people might write more character driven stories, while others might write more event driven stories. Also some writers may alternate between the two.

There is no hard and fast rule to character development, but it is generally accepted norm that character development is a good thang.*
So now I know that my lack of success in college is due to ADD — or sleep apnea. I need to do a sleep study some time.
 6 Killer Clowns, Tue, 24th May '11 6:52:18 AM from the Midwest Relationship Status: Shipping fictional characters
Easily entertained
My general rule of thumb is the older a character is, the less character development they're likely to go through, although there are exceptions. I don't write immortals with human-like psychology, however, so I've not considered whether this means a centuries-old elven teenager would be more or less likely to go through character development than a thirty-year old man.

Worth nothing that the Doctor is an example of an interesting, enjoyable protagonist who rarely goes through any sort of character development, shifts from regeneration aside. In his case, however, this is because he serves as a catalyst to others' character development.

edited 24th May '11 6:53:49 AM by KillerClowns

 7 Tera Chimera, Tue, 24th May '11 7:08:17 AM from somewhere out there
Cool Celtic Composition
Although I like character development, I don't think a protagonist has to go through a dramatic revelation, and sometimes they can get by with no revelation at all.

Take the Prince of Persia and Farah in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. At the beginning of the story, they don't trust each other at all, and the Prince may even hold a little contempt for Farah. By the end of the game, they're in love, and would trust each other with their life. No earth-shattering events, no character-changing shift, just two people working together toward a common goal talking a bit. I also think it's very well done.
"The Uncertainty Principle isn't about uncertainty and it isn't a principle; other than that, it's perfectly named." — David Van Baak
 8 Dec, Tue, 24th May '11 7:51:17 AM from The Dance Floor
Stayin' Alive
If the entire ark of the story beforehand is maid void by your character not learning or changing, then yeah, they need to develop. But outside of that, your characters can stay the same if you want them to. Sure, dramatic changes in a person are, well, dramatic, but that definitely isn't the be-all end-all of what can happen to a person, or what makes characters interesting. And if it isn't broken you shouldn't have to fix it, especially if you'd just end up going through the motions while attempting it.

In fact, I'd argue that if you're a strong character writer, and people get hooked into the story mainly through your MC's persona, overhauling his entire personality could be a horrible idea, and one that you should never, ever do halfheartedly. Just imagine the sheer amount of readers you could piss off just by replacing that awesome guy they liked...
Nemo enim fere saltat sobrius, nisi forte insanit
Deviantart.
Most of us face challenges every day without changing a hell of a lot in the process.

Most of us go to work (or school) every day, do chores, hold conversations, and find ways to resolve or avoid creating conflicts with people we want to get along with. For the most part, however, these "challenges" are not story. You would not want to read a book that was about everyday life in which nothing interesting happened. If something is interesting or unusual enough to be worth writing a story about, then it is inevitably going to have an effect on the characters (especially the protagonist) simply by virtue of the fact that they have lived through and responded to the experience.

It doesn't have to be earth-shattering (if it did, there would be very little room for anyone to write a series of stories about the same protagonist) but a character who fails to develop in response to noteworthy experiences is going to come across as shallow and most likely unsympathetic.

 10 annebeeche, Tue, 24th May '11 8:39:12 AM from by the long tidal river
watching down on us
What's wrong with having an unsympathetic character?
Banned entirely for telling FE that he was being rude and not contributing to the discussion. I shall watch down from the goon heavens.
 11 Killer Clowns, Tue, 24th May '11 8:43:21 AM from the Midwest Relationship Status: Shipping fictional characters
Easily entertained
[up]Having a sympathetic main character is assumed to be the default in modern writing — but, as Calvin constantly proves, a character blithely disregarding any attempt by the universe to mature them can work great in comedies. Also works for tragedies — a character failing to defeat his Fatal Flaw and being overcome by it.
Character Development is often listed as a "must have" for any work, right up there with Conflict.

In reality, though, how much does a given character (say, the Protagonist) actually have to change throughout the course of the story?

Is it absolutely necessary that a character undergo some major life-altering change on the road to resolving the conflict within the story?

I've seen the phrase 'character development' used two ways. The way you're using it, about a character changing during the course of the story, which is in fact unnecessary. And the other type is the author developing a sense of the character's personality so they can write a complex and believable character - which is essential to good writing.
If I'm asking for advice on a story idea, don't tell me it can't be done.
 13 Mr AHR, Tue, 24th May '11 11:41:12 AM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Static characters are never good. No matter how set they are in their ways, they're still going to learn something from new experiences.

However much development is necessary depends on what stuff and how much of it they encounter.
Static characters are never good. No matter how set they are in their ways, they're still going to learn something from new experiences.

It depends what you mean. The change may be too slight to notice, or it may only show up several years after the story ends.
If I'm asking for advice on a story idea, don't tell me it can't be done.
Happiness
Or nothing much really matters to the character. Like, I can't see my 3, 000-year-old immortal changing or evolving very much after emerging out of the main plot. He's seen everything. Why is this experience any different?

When I think about character development, I consider the character and the events that they wind up in, then ask myself, "How much would this person have changed, if at all? Why?" It's a subjective question that could have a million different answers.
 16 annebeeche, Tue, 24th May '11 11:58:20 AM from by the long tidal river
watching down on us
[up][up][up] Never say 'never'. (And never say 'always' either, for that matter.)

Sometimes, new experiences may not actually change people. Changes in character are caused by changes in what you do, not necessarily by your environment (though in many cases, changes in your environment will change what you do).

Say a Migration Period woman usually resolves her conflicts by yelling and physically forcing her way through. If she is suddenly moved to the present day, a completely new experience for her, and her strategy of yelling and muscling her way through difficulty still gets her food and sleep, she's not going to change in her ways.


Now say a wealthy man living in Poland in the 30's has spent most of his life being quite a big consumer of resources—he eats a lot, spends a lot, likes to throw parties and at the end of the day throws a lot of trash out. Suddenly, World War II strikes, and he is eventually sent to a concentration camp where he barely gets bread and a bowl of soup a day. In order to survive, this man must now scavenge whatever he can, and not throw anything he has out—every crumb and scrap to him is valuable. He'll spend a few long years living like this before WWII ends.

When WWII ends, he may possibly find relatives and resume a life of plenty, but this man will be changed by his ordeal for life—he may find he's become a miser: looking for useful pieces of wire in the trash, and insistent on keeping and eating all of his food and never throwing it out.

Oh, by the way, this was a real guy—his name was Władek Spiegelman.

edited 24th May '11 12:15:20 PM by annebeeche

Banned entirely for telling FE that he was being rude and not contributing to the discussion. I shall watch down from the goon heavens.
 17 Mr AHR, Tue, 24th May '11 2:42:01 PM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Ettina: Very true. Some probably won't be noticeable to the readers. What's important is if the writer knows it's there, and can act on it.
At the beginning of my Niko Silver Series, my protagonist is a fun-loving jerk devoted to his family and friends. He's the same at the end. I never saw any reason to change him.

edited 24th May '11 5:51:43 PM by nekomoon14

Winter is coming.
 19 Mr AHR, Tue, 24th May '11 5:50:03 PM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Character Development does not necessarily equate to a shift in personality.
 20 Major Tom, Tue, 24th May '11 7:16:13 PM Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
^ Indeed, all it takes to qualify as Character Development is a simple reveal. The audience learns why s/he does something or how s/he became who s/he is.

Developing characters is more than just subtle or overt changes in personality or methods. A lot of the time it's exploring who s/he is and why s/he does what s/he does.
"Allah may guide their bullets, but Jesus helps those who aim down the sights."
 21 annebeeche, Tue, 24th May '11 7:44:54 PM from by the long tidal river
watching down on us
I just noticed: we are actually operating on different definitions of "character development".

Definition A: Literally the development of a person's character. A change in an individual's personality/manner/behaviors, or an epiphany, or a paradigm shift, all of which clearly happen to people in real life. This is the definition I am using.

Definition B: Creating a realistic and/or believable character. This cannot be observed happening to people in real life.

edited 24th May '11 7:46:20 PM by annebeeche

Banned entirely for telling FE that he was being rude and not contributing to the discussion. I shall watch down from the goon heavens.
Pro-Freedom Fanatic
People adapt, react, and think about stuff. Even if their overall worldview and personality remains similar (never fully static), events can and do affect what people think and how they feel.

People are not unthinking automata: Stuff happening is bound to affect them, even if it's in subtle ways. Characters that don't develop are hardly believable.

edited 25th May '11 4:15:08 AM by SavageHeathen

You exist because we allow it and you will end because we demand it.
 23 Wolf 1066, Wed, 25th May '11 4:27:24 AM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
Thanks for the input, everyone.

Sorry for any confusion as to what I meant by "Character Development". I meant it in the context of "Definition A" [up][up]

What prompted my musing was the number of "Writer's Advice" books and sites that deem it important to decide in advance what your character is like before the events and how they've changed afterwards.

From what's been said above, I guess those who give that advice prefer a more "character-driven" plot where the important thing is the change in the character and will ensure the events occur in such a way as to effect that change.

Personally, I've never thought along lines of "I want to have a story in which an insecure person learns to trust his own abilities and becomes more confident".

I tend to think more in terms of "I want a story in which these events take place" and, for me, any character development that occurs comes out of the characters interacting with those events.

If a character is already self-reliant and determined and resolving/surviving the conflict is a matter of self-reliance and determination, then (s)he's not going to "develop" a lot. The reader may learn more about the depth of that character's resolve (and possibly why) and see exactly how tough they can be when the chips are down, but it's not going to be a "dormouse finds the strength to take on a lion" thing and I don't see any need to deliberately make the character a "wimp" just so they have "more to overcome".

If, however, the events push a character into doing something major - for example they have to take a life to save themselves or a loved one - then obviously it's going to have a profound impact on them and change them in interesting ways.

It seems to me that "the character must overcome some personal flaw by the final curtain" has become something of a cliché. Hollywood seems to love it:

OK, there's a major natural disaster and we're going to follow the survivors as they manage to avoid death. But that's not angsty enough so let's have the protagonist and his son estranged from one another and by the end of it they've gained respect for one another through their shared ideal - because nothing heightens tension more than two men squabbling like two-year-olds while death is bearing down on them. Cool, now add the obligatory wangsting over "I can't do it, I'm too scared!"/"But you must or you'll die". And Presto! Not only do they all survive but they're better people for it, too. They've got no home and their neighbours are rapidly attracting blow-flies but that's all right because they're reconciled and phobia-free.

It's like they treat the types of dramatic conflict like a check list rather than a guide. "Person vs Elements - check. Person vs Person - check. Person vs self - check..."

edited 25th May '11 4:27:44 AM by Wolf1066

Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
 24 Wolf 1066, Wed, 25th May '11 4:30:59 AM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
[up][up] I'm not saying characters should not change when events and circumstances dictate that they should, I was questioning the importance of deliberately crafting the characters so that they would have to undergo a major change.
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
Formerly G.G.
But does character development mean that the character changes for the better? I read a post on that somewhere but I don't know where it is, nevertheless I am not sure if character development means that they change into better people. For example, Bob was a innocent and sweet person but over the course of the series, he changes slowly and surely into a sociopath with little reagrd for others. I admit it is not a complete idea but my point is character may not always mean the characters change for the bttter, sometimes the characters don't even grow past their fatal flaw and it becomes their downfall.
"Humans haven't changed since my days in the temple.

How foolish and self-centered you are! Now, namusan ―― !"
Total posts: 34
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