Just as in real life, characters on a page change and develop throughout your story. This is natural and should happen. You can write a story without any character development, but those types of stories are usually noted just for that reason – a character’s refusal or inability to learn or respond to the events around them.
Don’t let your character drift around in this developmental arc. Plan your character’s growth and reactions with events, interaction with other characters, and from inner turmoil or conflict. Often characters are at war with themselves or their beliefs, and this can affect their overall character change.
Use these 10 tips to keep your character arc on track for believable development.
1. Who Is the Character at the Beginning?
Decide who your character is and why they need to change. In the Christmas favorite A Christmas Carol, Scrooge changes from a cantankerous, heartless man into a caring and generous one. Think of Dr. Seuss’s Grinch.
2. Inner Demons
Secrets your character hides can be a driving force in who they are. Denial can keep your character falsely happy and guilt can haunt your character into madness. This was one of Shakespeare’s favorite devices.
3. Perception of Self
Your character’s self-image may be their worst enemy. Something your character sees as a fault may be exaggerated or may not exist at all. A character thinking they’re too fat, too ugly, stupid, or even superior to others are perceptions that can be changed or altered within the storyline. In the play and movie The Seven Year Itch, a pulp fiction editor sees himself as a skirt-chasing fiend trying to corner the blonde from upstairs – but he’s not. His fantasy life is exaggerated in his mind and has invaded when his wife and child are away for the summer.
4. Show the Character Changing
Give the reader the eyewitness view of the character changing. Show the obstacles overcome, the decisions made, the failures and wins. It doesn’t always have to be pretty.
+20° (68F) – Greeks put on sweaters (if they can find them). +15° (59F) – Hawaiians turn on the heaters (if they have them). +10°(50F) – Americans shake, Russians are planting cucumbers. +5° (41F)– You can see your own breathing. Italian cars don’t start. Norwegians take a bath. Russians drive with lowered windows. 0° (32F) – Water freezes in America , in Russia it thickens. -5° (23F) – French cars don’t start. -10°(14F) – You’re planning a vacation to Australia . -15°(5F) – Your cat insists to sleep in your bed. Norwegians put on sweaters. -18°(0.4F) – New York landlords turn on the heaters. Russians make their last seasonal picnic. -20° (-4F) – American cars don’t start. People in Alaska start wearing long-sleeves. -25°(-13F) – German cars don’t start. Hawaiians are dead. -30° (-22F) – Politicians start talking about homeless people. Your cat prefers to sleep in your pajamas. -35° (-31F) – Too cold to think. Japanese cars don’t start. -40° (-40F) – You’re planning a 2-week hot tub bath. Swedish cars don’t start. -42° (-43.6F) – Transportation stops in Europe . Russians eat ice cream on the street. -45° (-49F) – All Greeks are dead. Politicians really start doing something for the homeless. -50° (-56F) – Your eyelids start sticking when you blink. In Alaska , people close the window in the bathroom. -60° (-76F) – White bears start moving south. -70° (-94F) – Hell freezes. -73° (-99.4F) – Finnish special services evacuate Santa Claus from Lapland . Russians wear earmuff hats. -80° (-112F) – Lawyers put their hands in their own pockets. -114° (-173.2F) – Ethyl alcohol is freezing. Russians are unhappy. -273° (-459.4F) – Absolute zero, atomic movement stops. Russians wear boots. -295° (-499F) – 90% of the planet is dead. Russian soccer team becomes the world champion
so you are effectively telling me that by me forgiving my own father that he wronged his children, that my experiences are devalued because I can move forward with the closure I needed to say that he knew he was wrong that he knew he was terrible. that by forgiving him my life experiences that led up to the point that taught me that violence begets violence is better? yes? Got it. Cool.
I’m telling you that continuously depicting narratives in which abusers are forgiven and redeemed, victims and survivors who do not or cannot forgive their abusers are being told that their experiences are “overblown” and “exaggerated”.
Perpetuating the forgiveness narrative in media teaches abusers and their victims that “everything will be okay” as long as the victim “gets over themselves”.
Focusing on redemption of abusers “sends a message to the victims that their abuser’s redemption is of greater priority than their need to feel safe and heal”.
Redemption arcs in media romanticize the effects of abuse on victims and survivors, and demonstrate to audiences the misconception that that abusers limit themselves to one person in one specific situation, rather than exhibiting a pattern of abusive behavior in multiple areas and times in their lives.
I’m telling you that the cultural devaluation and burden of proof that are carried by victims and survivors of abuse will not be resolved by continuing to teach abusers that a clean slate is possible and the harm they do is easily forgotten.