Creative Writing

Today’s story structure topic: “Main Character Resolve”

Every main character needs to grow over the course of a story, but there are two ways to do that:

  1. They can grow to the point that they change (like Scrooge)
  2. They can grow in their resolve (like Clarice Starling)

In the first example, Scrooge is set in his ways. He has a world view that was born of his life experience. He believes he is right in his understanding of how the world works and how best to protect oneself. But he doesn’t not realize that to shield himself from pain and the fear of pain yet to come, he has built a wall around his emotions that separate him from the warmth of human connection.

In the second example, Clarice Starling (in Silence of the Lambs) has also suffered pain as a child, from the death of her father, a lawman, and also from being unable to save the spring lamb from the slaughter. She probably does not even realize that is why she joined the FBI and why she will put herself at great risk to save every lost lamb, metaphorically speaking.

In Scrooge’s case, the ghosts, with Marley as their warm-up act, eventually convince Scrooge of the error of his outlook on life, though it takes nearly the whole story to do it. But once he changes his perspective, he is a changed man, and we say that main character has grown by changing.

In Starling’s case, Dr. Lecter fulfills the same dramatic role the ghosts provided in A Christmas Carol. Though his story-long efforts to understand what drives her, he eventually pressures her to reveal the story of the slaughter of the Spring lambs. But even when he does, she doesn’t make the connection and she cannot let it go. We know she has not changed because near the end of the story Lecter flat out asks her, “Are the lambs still screaming?” and she does not reply because, in fact, they are. It is that sadness that makes her a good agent. If she let it go, she would not be as driven. Lecter tests this out by telling her that he has no intention of “calling” on her because the world is more interesting with her in it. He asks her to provide him with the same “courtesy” but she says, “You know I can’t do that.” And he does know, because the lambs are still screaming. We call such a character Steadfast, because they stick by their guns, their attitude or world view, and grow in their resolve to hold on to that view.

In each case, the story is passionate and the main character is pressured to change. They both grow, but one is a Change character and the other is Steadfast.

When fashioning your story, consider which of these two kinds of characters you wish to employ to create the message you want to send to your readers or audience, keeping in mind that change is good if you are on a bad path, but change is bad if you are on a good one. Similarly, if you remain steadfast, that could be good if you outlook is correct, whereas remaining steadfast is bad if you are on the wrong path.

Of course, you aren’t required to have your character grow at all. You could simply tell a story about a main character trying to achieve a goal by having to overcome greater or greater obstacles until they do or do not.

Such a narrative is called a Tale because it is focused on the plot and does not examine character growth. There’s nothing wrong with a Tale, especially in an action story or a conspiracy investigation.

But note that even in today’s popular superhero stories, the main character almost always has a personal issue that comes into question and about which they must choose. Even if it is underplayed, by including character growth you humanize your character and allow your readers or audience to empathize with them, be it in Hamlet, Lord of the Rings, or Wonder Woman 84.

This story structure tip is taken from the Dramatica Theory of Story, which is a complete model of the elements of structure and how they work together.

You can download the free eBook, Dramatica: A New Theory of Story, here:

You can also learn about our Dramatica Story Structure Software that uses a patented interactive Story Engine based on the theory to cross-reference the dramatic impact of your structure choices, such as change or steadfast, and use them to project a perfect structure for the story you want to tell. Click here for details:


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