Sunday, August 15, 2010

Change of Heart

by Olivia Cunning

As a reader, my favorite books feature highly developed characters who somehow evolve or change through the course of the novel. Coming of age stories? Love them! That is why, when I exchange my reader’s hat for my writer’s one, I believe developing my character arcs is of utmost importance. Don’t get me wrong, the plot is important, too—some highly successful authors focus solely on plot and their heroine in book one is the exact same heroine in book seventy-three (yawn!)—but if a main character does not change in some way, she doesn’t feel real to me. I want to read about characters who are so real, I feel like I could give them a call and ask, “What’s up? Did you ever get those bullet holes in your refrigerator door patched?”

Let’s face it, when shitake happens in real life, people change. If someone breaks into your house and shoots up your refrigerator, you are going to change. Probably permanently. You might fear leftover meatloaf for the rest of your life. Ever see what an AK-47 assault rifle can do to a meatloaf? Eh, me neither. You might feel the strange need to put a refrigerator in every room of your house. It was a good place to hide in the last shoot out, why wouldn’t it be in the next one? You could change in an infinite number of ways—big or small, incredible or mundane. The only outcome I’m not buying is that the experience didn’t change you at all.

Authors put their characters through more shitake (…I do like mushrooms…) in three hundred pages than most real people see in their entire lifetime. So I strongly believe that characters should respond to all that shitake we authors call “plot” and come out the other side a changed person—for better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in…(sorry, lost my train of thought). In order for me to be a happy reader, the main characters need to change in a realistic way, otherwise, I feel cheated and I won’t be reading book seventy-three in the series, or even book two. Now let’s make it clear that this is my personal opinion. Others obviously disagree as they will read all 73 titles of "Heroine Never Changes, Ages, or Pees" a minimum of seven times and will preorder book 74 two years in advance.

So now I finally get around to the title of this blog—change of heart. (Digress much, Olivia? Why yes, yes, I do.) I just “finished” writing the third book in the Sinners on Tour series. Editor extraordinaire, Deb Werksman, hasn’t read it yet, so I know it’s not really finished. I’m starting to see a theme emerge in the series. A theme I didn’t plan. In every book so far, either the heroine, or the hero, or both have a change of heart. They weren’t seeking love at the beginning. In fact, they didn’t want anything to do with love. Somehow they have to get beyond their “love is for suckers” mentality and find their happily ever after, which every romance writer knows is an absolute must.


A change of heart is especially true in the case of my first heroine, Human Sexuality Professor Myrna Evans. Her ex-husband was so verbally and emotionally abusive that she can’t stand to hear the word “love”. It makes her all PTSD, freaked out, don’t-you-dare-say-that-word, heeby jeebied. Through the course of Backstage Pass (release date October 1, 2010), Myrna changes. She mostly changes because her hero—lead guitarist, be-still-my-palpating-heart, Brian Sinclair—is the most caring, understanding, patient, loving, romantic, and giving rock legend who ever wrote a guitar solo on his lover’s naked body. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s hotter than habanero and really, really good in bed. Somewhere along the way, Myrna had a change of heart. She had to. She’s one of my favorite characters, I put her through a lot of shitake, and she deserves her happily ever after.

Do you think it’s essential for main characters to evolve/change in a novel or are there cases where characters should remain entirely unchanged from start to finish? What are some of your favorite characters and why do you like them?

And while we’re talking about "Change of Heart", look how much Cyndi Lauper has changed. I remember when this song was popular.



Nostalgic-type stuff of the same song for comparison.



Isn’t change great?

19 comments:

  1. You remind me why I don't like mushrooms! I also like to see change in my characters as they grow from all that shitake. In my own life however, I tend to try to avoid any unpleasant circumstances that might cause growth. I'm not saying that's a great life motto, but change is scary!

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  2. There are two answers depending on whether I'm reading or writing. When I reading one of my faves, I just like the characters so much and I'm so happy with the dialogue, etc. I'm content with an arc that only takes the characters from A to B.
    Frankly, I envy those writers and wish I were one of them.
    Alas, when I'm writing, the characters are going to have to evolve. Their fundamental premises are going to be challenged, their hearts are going to be wrung, and end the end, they must have changed enough to deserve the happy ending.

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  3. Change is stressful! We're moving our library, have all kinds of changes planned, some are good, some are going to cause a lot more stress--longer days, Sunday hours, other departments are joining us. When I told patrons we were going to be shut down on a certain day and before I could say more, two of our patrons said, "Oh, just for a day?" Talk about stressed. Can you imagine moving a library of books and all the shelving and desks and office equipment and computer equipment, tagging all the books for self checkout that we don't have now, etc, etc, etc, and having it all set up at the new location in just one day? LOL How about 2-3 weeks, folks??? :)

    But when it refers to character growth, absolutely! I can't imagine enjoying books where the characters don't grow. I've read ones where they don't and I think, won't the heroine (usually it's the heroine) ever take a stance, do something for herself, grow? If there's some major upheaval in one's life, the character has to change...or at least in my opinion, yes. :) Or they're either dead, or it's just totally unrealistic. And even dead people, if you read vampire stories where the people are mostly dead, or romantic zombies, etc, they still need to show character growth.

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  4. Olivia - I'm all about character growth. If a character doesn't grow in a book, it's an automatic wall banger. And no, the change can't be that the sneaky conniving woman accepts the fact she's sneaky and conniving.

    I want to see the character travel from the person they are to the person they were meant to be. I want to see them trip and fall, land in the mud and get up again on that journey. I want to see how the love of a good man or woman give our h/h the strength to become a stronger, better person. I want to see the symbiotic relationship that aids the transformation of both the heroine and heroine that only happens when two people are really meant for each other. When is see, feel, touch, taste and live that with the characters, then, I'm satisfied, and if I laugh a little through it, even better.

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  5. Hahaha, Amanda! Another author who tortures her characters and makes them change.

    Mary Margret-I'm glad your characters fully evolve. In no way should you envy other writers. Unless they have a Maserati.

    Terry, moving a library does NOT sound like fun. At all. Perhaps a sick day is in order. Or a week of them. And isn't it funny how characters who are 500 years old or 500 years dead, I suppose, still have the capacity to change. So I guess you can teach an old vamp new tricks.

    Robin- Exactly! Well said.

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  6. Olivia, after reading that I'll never eat mushrooms aain- but I will keep my refrigerator clean.
    I agree that character growth and change is absolutely essential in novels. I like my characters to have some kind of epiphany that changes the way they see themselves and the world - and the hero, of course!
    The one author I like who doesn't let her character change much is Sue Grafton. I love Kinsey Milhone, but she's the same savvy gal at the beginning and end of the book. The plots are always great, though, and they're "comfort reads" for me.

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  7. Great post! It made me think about a scene I wrote Friday. Something really important happened, and then I changed POV and just went right on with the plot. But I need to go back and show how the really important thing impacted my characters. Thanks! You've saved me revisions later!

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  8. I sooooooooo can't wait for this one to come out! It's so hot and, absolutely hysterical.

    And, yum, mushrooms. :)

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  9. I think all characters have to change in some way or there's really no point to the story!
    Can't wait to read this one!

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  10. "I want to read about characters who are so real, I feel like I could give them a call and ask, 'What’s up? Did you ever get those bullet holes in your refrigerator door patched?'"

    I LOLed over this. Fabulous way to describe three-dimensional characters! And I love Cyndi Lauper!!
    I saw her in person with Cher. IMHO, she was better! (Don't tell Cher!)

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  11. I love Cyndi Lauper! I am of THAT generation, so it is a major trip down memory lane. I love that she has matured and settled somewhat yet without losing that edge that makes her Cyndi Lauper.

    She is a terrific example of your post. People do change, often quite drastically after a trauma or even just with normal life passing. Yet there is a core that remains. Usually anyway.

    And I totally agree about needing our characters to change! I get the opposite "criticism" in my stories. Certain people want Lizzy and Darcy to be exactly as they were in P&P (or rather the reader's interpretation of their characters in P&P) and they get downright angry that I change them. My response is to try to point out in a polite manner that people do not stay the same! Especially after learning lessons, finding the happily-ever-after, and moving along in time.

    Still scratching my head over that attitude.....

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  12. Joanne- You're not alone, a lot of readers love the sameness of character from one book to the next. It takes an author with great plotting skills to keep them coming back for more.

    Shana- I see lots of revisions in my own future. Glad to save you a few.

    Judi- I do believe we shared a bowl of sauteed (not shitake) mushrooms in Denver and I've got to say NUMMIN'S.

    Cheryl- I'm with you. And thanks for the Birthday hunk. He was much tastier than my cake and less fattening. It's the gift that keeps ON giving.

    Ashlyn- I too love Cyndi Lauper. I'm just so glad she learned to comb her hair!

    Sharon- I was on the edge of THAT generation. You know what kills me now, my dad used to rant about the horrible rock music I listened to as a teenager. Motley Crue. Guns 'n' Roses. etc. Now, my horrible rock music plays on his classic rock station and he listens to it. It makes me feel really, really old that the music of my youth is now concidered "classic" and my dad no longer rants about it. I, of course, have moved on to even more "horrible" music for Dad to rant about, so it's all good. :-) And I'm scratching my head along with you. No, I don't have lice. About the Darcy character development thing.

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  13. Frodo. For some reason the only character popping into my mind who has a profound growth arc is Frodo from LOTR. For good reason. I need more coffee.

    I love mushrooms. Mmmm...wild boar and mushrooms. I think it'll make next week's menu. Thanks, Olivia.

    Dying to get my hands on your book. I'm really bad at being patient.

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  14. Frodo is a GREAT character with a sweeping character arc, VA. Good call.

    I don't think I've ever had wild boar. Does it taste like hicken? He he heee!

    46 days until release! You think you're impatient? HA!

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  15. Since your Sinners series (three times fast, go!) focuses on a different couple, yes, I think change is gonna do them good. But, if you were going to focus on the same couple in each of the books, I probably wouldn't change them, just what's happening around them. I'm thinking of TV couples like Diane and Sam in Cheers, who lost their oomph once they...um..fully engaged.

    And, hey, what the heck happened to my meatloaf?

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  16. Jill Lynn - I see your point. I guess that's why couples in soap operas get their HEA for about five minutes and then the toaster explodes and gives them amensia

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  17. Holy crap, I will read anything you write that is this funny, Olivia! Where the hell was the spew alert?!

    And, I sooo totally agree with you. This sounds a lot like one of my standard rants. When horrible things -- or wonderful things -- happen to characters, they should change to reflect that.

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  18. Actually, the Sinners on Tour series has a lot of humor, Lisa. In between the explicit sex scenes, that is.

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  19. I think it's easier to create shitake for our characters because we can predict and control the change...but that's not something we can do in real life. Great post, Olivia!

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