The Function of Change

With my own changes in the air I thought I would blog about the importance of change for moving forwards. In real life and in fictional worlds change is how we grow.

I see a lot of novels in my work and one of the things I sometimes find myself commenting on is just how much the key characters change or don’t change. I remember a novel I read  some time ago — the narrative was lovely, the story interesting, but the protagonist remained on an ‘even keel’. By this I mean they didn’t really develop or change and the timid person we met at the start was the same timid person we left at the end. Let me state it simply: change is a function of plot. The whole point of a story is to make a character (or characters) face a dilemma/conflict/problem and plot is how that is faced/solved/resolved. And this involves change. Often plot takes your character out of their comfort zone, slowly raising the stakes — the classic story arc (the function of raising personal stakes, even if an internal conflict in a literary novel where by definition it’s more character than plot-driven, is to provide the necessary character motivation for action). The function of foregrounding therefore becomes ones of planting seeds, often in a subtle way, that show a character’s fears or weaknesses and therefore plot will allow the character to face those fears, usually tied into the resolution. If you show a character never dealing with the death of a loved one, abuse as a child, even an irrational fear of spiders, it has to be there for a reason, and an expectation of plot is this will be overcome/faced/dealt with.

Note how everything has to have function. And in answering the first question ‘how does a character change?’ you are asking yourself as the writer if you fully understand what your character wants and therefore what question beats at the heart of the novel. You have to know this. Know this and you will have a blueprint of where this story needs to go and what the climax needs to do. It should help focus and avoid those meandering plot lines and subplots not tied to the main plot; and therefore ‘filler’. If your character doesn’t change, what is the point of the story? Don’t make a character a victim of change around them if they are little more than a passive bystander — your protagonist has to take an active role, even if we only really see it at the climax (it should have slowly developed) and it solves the burning question. Now we have change and we have function — and by this I mean an overall function for the story.

Without change — is it even story?

I will leave that for you to ponder although it should not take a lot of pondering!

Have a great day everyone!

Change the world, one story at a time …

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