How do you feel about character change?
But when I think about it, some characters don't seem to change all that much (which can be debatable, depending on the character) and are still the same people by the end of the story. Conan the Barbarian, Robert Langdon (I think, though I haven't read the entire series) or Dirk Pitt comes to mind.
Does a character need to change as a person for their story to mean anything? Or does forcing a change seem trite or predictable?
A character who doesn't change much or at all is undergoing a 'flat character arc' and this is a perfectly good tool for authors. Like all tools in a writer's toolbox it has places where it works great and others where it does not.
Here's a good article on it which explains it much better than I can: https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/flat-character-arc-1/
Remember that characters can have multiple arcs. Most superheroes have a big character arc in their origin story and then stay pretty flat for the majority of their careers. A lack of implementation of the flat arc is, I think, why we keep getting origin stories over and over again.
Flat arcs are also great for long-running series. There's only so many times your character can undergo an arc before becoming unrecognizable.
In the end, there is nothing wrong with a character changing or not changing over the course of the story. It is only wrong when mishandled, the arc type does not fit the story, or you've somehow mislead your audience's expectations. Like so many parts of the writing craft, it is the execution that matters most.
Just my two cents, hope something here was helpful or interesting.
In your first example you have your James Bond and your Gilligan's Islands and a whole host of others. The stories are a collection of stories that you can pick any individual one up and enjoy it. There is no connection from one to the next and it functions on a really basic level that's meant to reach as many people as possible and not alienate anyone.
And then there's literally everything else. The modern trend is to have change, overarching stories, and character growth.
Know what story you want to write, but a majority of people will be column B.
Most mentor characters are often on a flat arc for the most part because their focal change happened before the story, making them wise and also freeing them up to help the other characters.
It depends how you use it.
For example, an old man with arthritis may struggle holding a door knob, or opening his pill jars and cry himself to sleep at night over how much his joints hurt. As the story goes on, maybe that same arthritic old man finds a new way of life where he doesn't need to be afraid of pill jars and sleeps like a baby. Maybe he's found meaning somewhere else in his life and let go of the past. He's not who he used to be, but he doesn't need to be. He's found new meaning to his life.
That would be a deep character evolution. You are meant to sympathize with the characters in the story and enjoy the work as a slice of life. There are of course fictions where the characters aren't important so they don't really need to change. You mentioned a couple examples like "Conan the Barbarian". The fiction in that case isn't about the characters. Just make the protagonist likable and call it a day in that case.
Another issue is especially with long stories where a character has a flaw... and there is done nothing to address it. Maybe out of fear of it "changing" the character too much, I don't know. I would say Randidly Ghosthound is a great example of this... it feels like he is still in a perpetual semi-depression without the ability to form any meaningful connections thousands of pages into the story. At that point, the flaw is obvious for everyone, and it just begins to become frustrating that the MC is doing nothing to better himself.
I do understand the fear of 'fixing' it though. Consider this... if you fix all your main character's flaws, but the story is a serialized format so it keeps going... you end up with a perfect character. So you are forced to somehow introduce new character flaws, or ignore it entirely.
Ridgeview Wrote: Does a character need to change as a person for their story to mean anything?
Dubs Wrote: I really like the concept of starting with an extremely flawed, dislikable main character, and developing them into a likable character by putting them through pain, suffering, and realization.
Nice to conceptualize; not that fun to read.
Too many people seem to conflate growth with evolution. I feel this is always why a lot of LitRPGs have exponential power growth. The feeling that growth should be fast and lead to major permanent changes. And that can be just as boring as the character never learning anything.
Also, lots of classic serials never have growth. Look at Sherlock Holmes. Holmes NEVER really learns more or grows as a character. Watson does, but holmes? Never.
Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, The hardy Boys. same characters time and again, facing new plots.