Should Your Main Character Start or Stop?

Should Your Main Character
Start or Stop?

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Main Characters can grow either by starting a new way of thinking or by ending an old one.  Here’s how and why…


Brief Explanation:


Over the course of your story, the Main Character will either grow out of something or grow into something.  Authors show their audiences how to view this development of a Main Character by indicating the direction of Growth by the Main Character.  


If the story concerns a Main Character who Changes, he will come to believe he is the cause of his own problems (that's why he eventually changes).  If he grows out of an old attitude or approach (e.g. loses the chip on his shoulder), then he is a Stop character.  If he grows into a new way of being (e.g. fills a hole in his heart), then he is a Start character.


If the story concerns a Main Character who Remains Steadfast, something in the world around him will appear to be the cause of his troubles.  If he tries to hold out long enough for something to stop bothering him, then he is a Stop character.  If he tries to hold out long enough for something to begin, then he is a Start character.


If you want the emphasis in your story to be on the source of the troubles which has to stop, choose "Stop."  If you want to emphasize that the remedy to the problems has to begin, choose "Start."


The Theory Behind It:


Whether a Main Character eventually changes his nature or remains steadfast, he will still grow over the course of the story.  This growth has a direction.  Either he will grow into something (Start) or grow out of something (Stop).  


As an example we can look to Scrooge from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.  Does Scrooge need to change because he is excessively miserly (Stop), or because he lacks generosity (Start)?  In the Dickens' story it is clear that Scrooge's problems stem from his passive lack of compassion, not from his active greed.  It is not that he is on the attack, but that he does not actively seek to help others.  So, according to the way Charles Dickens told the story, Scrooge needs to Start being generous, rather than Stop being miserly.  


A Change Main Character grows by adding a characteristic he lacks (Start) or by dropping a characteristic he already has (Stop).  Either way, his make up is changed in nature.


A Steadfast Main Character's make up, in contrast, does not change in nature.  He grows in his resolve to remain unchanged.  He can grow by holding out against something that is increasingly bad while waiting for it to Stop.  He can also grow by holding out for something in his environment to Start.  Either way, the change appears somewhere in his environment instead of in him.


Tips on Usage:


A good way to get a feel for the Stop/Start dynamic in Change Main Characters is to picture the Stop character as having a chip on his shoulder and the Start character as having a hole in his heart.  


If the actions or decisions taken by the character are what make the problem worse, then he needs to Stop.  


If the problem worsens because the character fails to take certain obvious actions or decisions, then he needs to Start.  


A way to get a feel for the Stop/Start dynamic in Steadfast Main Characters is to picture the Stop character as being pressured to give in, and the Start character as being pressured to give up.


If you want to tell a story about a Main Character concerned with ending something bad, choose Stop.  


If you want to tell a story about a Main Character concerned with beginning something good, choose Start.  


From our interns:


Examples of Stop Characters:


Stop as the Growth  --  The direction of the Main Character's growth is toward stopping something.  The issue of Resolve (Change/Steadfast) has an impact on how to evaluate Growth (Start/Stop), so we've included examples which reflect these different contexts.  For example:


Stop/Steadfast:  a radical activist believes she must remain tied to the gates of a nuclear plant so that her example will cause the employees to shut down the plant; etc.


Stop/Change:  For example, a doctor who always pushes her patients too hard for their own good stops when she becomes ill and is treated the same way; etc.


Examples of Start Characters:


Stop as the Growth  --  The direction of the Main Character's growth is toward stopping something.  The issue of Resolve (Change/Steadfast) has an impact on how to evaluate Growth (Start/Stop), so we've included examples which reflect these different contexts.  For example:


Stop/Steadfast:  a radical activist believes she must remain tied to the gates of a nuclear plant so that her example will cause the employees to shut down the plant; etc.


Stop/Change:  For example, a doctor who always pushes her patients too hard for their own good stops when she becomes ill and is treated the same way; etc.



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