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?