Do people change?

Usually, the idea of a story is that the main character undergoes a change, or several, as the story unfolds. Sometimes, the whole point is in the main character not changing but that, too, tells us something equally revealing about him/ her, their surrounds, or even us as readers.

But how profound can the change in a character be to still be believable? I don’t believe in people regularly going through huge transformations that leave them a different person. Opinions change, certain characteristics shift, mature, vanish … But a whole new character or temperament replacing the old one? I don’t buy it. Not in real life nor in fiction. That’s why I have problems with stories where this happens. I’m not able to identify with such a character. But …

The but in this case is a huge one. Because I actually know a person that seems an entirely different man than the one I first met almost fifteen years ago. He is so different I’d have trouble recognizing him if it weren’t for his physical appearance. Once an obnoxious jerk, rude and chauvinistic, this guy is now a happy family man who bakes bread on his days off! I’m not sure what happened for him to change so dramatically. I don’t know if it was because of the girl who is now his wife, or if it was because of something else that shifted in him. Maybe he was being a jerk because of his youth, because he thought he was cooler like that. Maybe part of it was just an act. I don’t know the motive for his previous behavior nor for this new personality of his. The change is astounding and pleasant. But there’s another but here.

Whenever I talk to him, I can’t shake the shadow of his previous ‘self’. Despite him being fun and nice now, I keep waiting for that nasty person to break out again and spoil it all. Even after many years, I’m still on guard around him. For the same reason, I won’t be easily convinced a character can change completely in fiction, either. Maybe I’m skeptic or overly suspicious, but there you have it.

I like bad boys, the kind that are not bad for the sake of being bad but because they have a reason for it. Like Harper. He’s not rude and aloof because he enjoys being hated by others. Life taught him that it’s safest to keep everyone at a distance. So he does, to protect himself. People have hurt him, but he’s done some pretty bad things, too. Deep down, he’s not the sweetest boy; he’s essentially good, but scarred and stubborn and occasionally wrong and blind. He makes mistakes.

But so does Isabelle when she believes everything she’s heard of him at the beginning. When they begin to get to know each other, they realize there’s a lot more to them than they initially thought. That’s the change they undergo – they don’t change personalities, they just change the way they see each other. They open up their minds, they let go of their preconceived opinions. I enjoyed writing that because I think it’s important to learn to accept others as they are, respecting their lives, what they’ve been through. That’s what shapes us, sometimes against our will.

Do you know of any character that’s changed thoroughly throughout a story? Someone that ended up being a different person in the end? Let me know about them because I’d like to see how writers tackle such huge transformations. I want to be convinced! 🙂

 

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