Aspiring writers usually start with wonderful characters who stay the same throughout. Boring. One of the best novels that demonstrates character growth is Gone with the Wind. Most of us remember the flighty, pampered, and conniving Scarlett O’Hara.
She wasn’t the most likable heroine, but she certainly promised fireworks. When she met Rhett Butler, sparks flew. Initially, the two of them were selfish people who had their own interests. The reader looks forward to more encounters.
The war changed the frivolous Scarlett who had only parties and flirting on her mind. Instead, she becomes increasingly desperate with her inability to hook Ashley and the approaching war. She’s changing, which makes her dynamic character who is interesting to watch.
What happens when you don’t let you character grow? We will make Scarlett an example of a stagnant character. The war comes, her father dies, and she stills worries about what dress to wear or about the lack of parties. Wouldn’t you consider her odd because she didn’t change or even react to her circumstances? Most people would call her shallow or cold when she refused to grow. Her concerns are more on keeping Tara, the family home, her family, and herself financially afloat. She does this by marrying Frank Kennedy. The conniving part of her is still there, but now her goals change.
Life changes your perspective and your priorities. We realize this and expect fictional characters to be similar. Someone might point to Scarlett’s obsession with Ashley. Eventually even that changes too. She sees him not as the iconic hero, but more as a man she desires, eventually she realizes he isn’t half the man Rhett is. Finally, she sees him as he really is and is disappointed, even disgusted.
Rhett changes too to allow them to come together. After he rescues Melanie and Scarlett, he goes to fight for the South. Scarlett’s points out that he ridiculed the Confederate Cause before, but now he wants to fight for the losing side. Because they both changed, it ramps up the conflict.
If your characters do not act in a believable way, the reader begins to question their credibility. If this happens enough, the reader may put the story aside. This is a better result than getting a scathing review about your tale as the result of an ambitious fifth grader.
Growing your characters makes them unpredictable. It allows them to have original moments free of cliché dialogue and actions. If a reader doesn’t know what to expect then he or she will keep reading.
Allow your characters to have idiosyncrasies, but hold back on revealing them all at once. This will add depth to your character as you reveal them, surprising the reader. It also stops the problem of dropping too much backstory at once.
Getting back to Scarlett O’Hara, she and Rhett were happy for a while. They both changed enough to value one another. Their happiness ended with the death of their daughter. Most marriages do not survive the death of a child. Theirs was no exception. Scarlet returns back to her old home. Her last lines are about the land as the only thing that matters. She’s changed 180 degrees echoing the sentiment she’d ridiculed her father for at the beginning of the story. Her character grew. Readers who may have condemned her as Civil War era mean girl, now feel sympathetic to her because of all the circumstances that forced her to grow.
If you plan on using the same cast of characters for a series, don't forget to allow them all a chance to develop. Do your friends always stay the same? It is something to think about.