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How Much Character Change is Realistic?

This week, I had a moment of self-reflection. I like to proclaim that I have changed a loom high school. I used to be super shy, wishing to be invisible. I was happy staying home constantly writing. Through the course of growing up and venturing out of my parent’s house, I have tried to “change.” I won’t go into details because that is probably for a therapy session and not a writer’s blog, but I debated whether I have really changed at all. 

Changing is hard. I remember reading a quote that stated change was only possible if someone is willing. This goes along with the idea that I cannot change another person, no matter how much I want to. If we could change people, then imagine how different history would be…both for the good and bad. Yet, even if I make the choice to be different, how easy is it to adapt? This thought led to where it always does…the story.

People spend a lot of time discussing characterization in novels. What are their motives? What are their goals? Who are they? What are their deepest fears? All of these questions help mold this idea of a person into someone a reader can truly picture. It develops a “true” person. The other things people like to map are character arcs. How does the character change over the course of the novel/story? In a way, the story feels incomplete without characters making some change. 

But how realistic is this? I’ve been out of high school for a little over a decade and, while my interests and understanding of the world is vastly different, I really haven’t changed my personality all that much. I am still the girl who prefers conversations with her characters…they’re easier. I am still the girl who craves a good story, whether in book or tv series form. In fact, I would venture to say most people don’t change a lot throughout the course of their adulthood unless they encounter some traumatic event in their lives. 

When considering that most novels take place over the course of a few days, maybe a few years, how realistic is it that characters change? The teenager movies I grew up watching would depict the wallflower being turned into a socialite. I think a real person would struggle with this. But, more importantly, I don’t think novels should depict such a dramatic change to be easy. It’s not a matter of waking up one day and claiming a different personality.

So, while readers expect character change, I think there has to be a balance. When we build characters, maybe we need to look at what we want characters to learn. How do we want them to be different…or do we even want them to be different? Characters should grow and adapt. Yet, even if a character is propelled into being a hero figure, they still have their original faults. This is where the heart of a true story can arise.