Character Change is Good (or maybe bad)

By Melanie Anne Phillips

signs_bad_goodAt the core of a story’s message is a very simple issue – whether it is better to be like the main character or not.  For characters like Scrooge in  A Christmas Carol, the message is to change one’s attitude toward others and adopt a new way of thinking.  But for other characters, such as in Field of Dreams or Rocky, the message is to stick by your guns and keep being who you are.

Sometimes change is good, as with Scrooge.  But imagine if Ray had given up on building the ball field or Rocky Balboa had determined there was no way to win and he shouldn’t continue to try.

There are four combinations that you might use in your story:

  1.  The character who changes and things work out for the better.
  2. The character who changes and things work out for the worse.
  3. The character who remains steadfast and things work out for the better.
  4. The Character who remains steadfast and things work out for the worse.

Each provides a different spin on your message.  You can choose to tell a story about a character who changes or holds fast to their beliefs, methodologies, attitudes or world view.  And as a result, that character may succeed or they may fail.  Or, you can choose to tell a story about character who is intransigent in their beliefs, methodologies, attitudes or world view, and either succeeds or fails because of it.

And to put even a finer spin on things, there are two factors that determine if things turned out okay or not:

  1.  Did the effort to achieve the Story Goal end in success or failure?
  2. Did the main character resolve his or her personal angst or not?

So, you might have a story in which a character changes and achieves the goal because of it, but is miserable in the end.  Or you might have a character who changes, achieves the goal and is elated.

On the opposite side, a character might remain steadfast, fail in the goal but find true personal salvation or happiness.  Or that character might remain steadfast, succeed in the goal but be left personally raw.

And, of course, you can have the quintessential tragedy in which a change or a steadfast character fails and the goal and is miserable in the end, or the penultimate feel good story in which a change or steadfast character both succeeds in the goal and find (or holds onto) great happiness, true love, etc.

The point here is that change, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad until you see the results of that change.  And also, a character does not have to change to grow, but can grow in his or her resolve, and doing so is neither good nor bad until you see the ramifications.  And finally, the ramifications don’t have to be cut and dried: all good or all bad.  Rather, you have the opportunity to temper your message with bitter sweet and sweet bitter endings as well, thereby creating a more complex motivational argument to your readers or viewers.

These are just a few of the options in Dramatica that affect the mood and timbre of your message.    Learn more about Dramatica here…

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