Re: How do you feel about character change?

#1
I don't have any works in progress at the moment.  But one of the things I'm contemplating before returning to the craft is how much a character is expected to change over the course of a story.  Some of the most celebrated characters go through a transformative experience on their journeys.  Frodo in Lord of the Rings, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars or Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games for instance.  

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?

Re: How do you feel about character change?

#2
Conan the Barbarian did undergo character growth throughout Howard's stories. Compare the young mercenary in 'The Frost Giant's Daughter' to the good King of Aquilonia Conan would become. It's a fairly subtle shift that takes a long time, it is presented less as an arc and more of a maturing. Ok, nitpick over on to the main point. You're right in that he doesn't undergo a major transformation and he works great because of it.

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.

Re: How do you feel about character change?

#3
There are two types of stories, organic/serialized stories and everything else. 

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.

Re: How do you feel about character change?

#4
Stories with a rising/ falling protagonist focus on how the setting & other characters change them, while stories with a flat protagonist focus on how they change the setting & the other characters. You could also think of it this way: the 'focal change' for growth/ fall characters occurs during the story while the flat character's occurred before the story. Flat characters can hardly be considered boring if they have a backstory full of change and actively change the world and the characters around them.

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.

Re: How do you feel about character change?

#7
Think of character evolution as the natural maturing of the characters.  Most fiction characters have flaws built into their character.  These flaws make them interesting.  Usually at the start of the story, the characters all have very realistic struggles that readers can identify with overcoming.  

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.  

Re: How do you feel about character change?

#8
I think a character will have to develop in some way... but it doesn't need to be drastic. The main character doesn't always need to overcome some massive trauma, a massive inherent flaw, or suddenly find the meaning of life to experience character progression. The thing is, we have gotten so used to characters doing that, so the small things tend to not be enough.

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.

Re: How do you feel about character change?

#10
I used to read for character change. Now, I just want an awesome story. I do want to see some character change, on the outside at least. Say, a character who is single, but finds someone, that's a level of change. Or a character who is poor, but becomes rich--another change. What I'm not really interested in is "character drama." You know, this The Walking Dead type, woe-is-me-I'm-so angst-ridden-and-conflicted-type. Internal change isn't that important to me, especially if there's too much boring drama. One of the reasons why I dumped Brandon Sanderson as an author. He used to be my favorite, but I think I've changed. For that matter, he's changed too.

Re: How do you feel about character change?

#13
Every character should change. But its often slow and subtle  The Chronicles of Prydain, a classic series. Taran absolutely grows and changes. But its slow, and at the very end... he's grown a bit, yes. But hes STILL the same assistant pig keeper we meet at the start of the first book. Just... with experience. a bit wiser. 

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.