I was talking recently to Domey about one of his stories, and we were discussing the idea of character change. It occurred to me that, possibly, I don't actually believe in change. I don't believe in "developing characters." I know, this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but bear with me. This isn't a revolution; I'm not offering to throw out character arcs, but I have maybe a different way to think about character arcs.
So there's a general expectation for a lot of fiction that the protagonist will have a different worldview at the end of the story than he has at the start of the story. The protagonist will have changed. Usually in genre fiction this is couched in terms of character growth. Often in literary fiction this is couched in terms of the character learning a bitter lesson about life. Either way, external forces come to bear upon the protagonist and he seems to change.
The character in question in Domey's story was not the protagonist, but Domey still needed to find a way to justify what looked like a dramatic shift in his behavior. Which got me thinking about the idea of character change.
My current theory is that characters don't actually change. The way they are at the end of the story--the endpoint of the character arc to which we're moving--is actually no more and no less than how the character really is, already. His true self, if you will, is already there, but it is hidden or repressed somehow. The dramatic action, the primary conflict of the story, is created because the protagonist is unable to express that true self. Or, it can only be resolved once the protagonist expresses that true self.
Yeah, this sounds very much like new-age bullshit, but I think it's a useful intellectual construct. Let's attempt to illustrate what I mean by falling back upon that ancient tale of the hero's transformative journey: George Lucas' Star Wars.
Star Wars (by which I mean the original film, not any of the five awful sequels/prequels) tells the story of Luke Skywalker. Luke does not know it, but his true self is a Jedi Knight, a guy who is attuned to the primal energies of the universe and a force for good. Hey, that's pretty cool. The trouble is, Luke's true self is wrapped in layers of adolescent snottiness and annoying low self-esteem and a kind of general stupidity about life. The character arc of Star Wars is Luke learning to shut the hell up and accept that some folks are smarter and more experienced than he is and that life is about more than his desire to go fly rocket fighters. He is only able to destroy the Death Star at the end of the film (and resolve the outer dramatic arc of the story) when he listens to the disembodied voice of Sir Alec Guinness: "Let go your conscious self; trust your feelings." Luke lets the Force take over, becomes a Jedi and blows up the bad guys. The end. He has not changed at all; his behavior has changed. Luke has stopped acting like someone who he is not.
I sidestep the entire Aristotelian debate about whether action is in fact character and say that "we are what we do" is not as true as "we are why we do." Motivation is everything, and what motivates a character is her true self.
So think about that and see if it's helpful with your own stories. Let me know if you think this is a Bad Idea or just completely off-base and nutty.