What Makes Change?

It’s New Year’s Eve. 2013 has been great to me, with two new books published and wealth of great experiences. On the cusp of 2014, I find myself thinking of change. Yeah, I know it’s not a big stretch of the intellect.

The Actuator 1- Fractured Earth

Recently I was discussing a short story I edited for a talented Cyberpunk author, Matthew Cox. He said, “You know, I think that’s probably the shortest thing I ever wrote. The hard part for me in a short format was having a sense that at least one character had some manner of growth.” I’ve been thinking about that since. How long does it take to make a change?

As an author, I think about it in terms of characters and words. In order for a change to be believable, how much does a character have to go through? As a person, I put the same question to my own life. Does real personal growth only happen after significant events, as fiction seems to imply?

I have friends who say people never change. They cite many examples of character traits in children, which persist through adulthood. In fact, a lot of the traditional literary fiction centers around the “people don’t change” theme. Tokien, Dickens, and other writers have capitalized on this by stereotyping characters according to traits. So we only have to think of Elrond or Miss Havisham to get a very strong image associated with their character traits.

While many people and characters will never change, the question is whether their remaining the same is because they didn’t have anything happen to inspire such a change. It’s possible in fiction for a character to have nothing important happen to them. However, life seems to put us all in the way of significant events whether we want them or not.

So what inspires change? The same terrible tragedy might inspire one person to grow and change, while it further solidifies the traits of another. Having a loved one die of cancer may spark one sibling to change their life and become a better person, while sending another to drink half to death.

Thus in life, one can only conclude that the changes we make are a choice. We choose how the events of our lives shape us. The same is true of characters in stories of any length. The bumps and bruises we feel as we travel the river of time through our lives can propel us forward or capsize the ship.

This is the whole meaning of fiction. It is why a made-up person in a fantastic world can still inspire us and change our lives. While we may never stand before a dragon holding a sword, we can use the example of characters when they do. We can see how they let the difficulties they face make them into heroes, and it gives us strength to keep the boat floating through the white waters we all must face.

May all your challenges lift you higher in 2014!

2 thoughts on “What Makes Change?

  1. Excellent comments!

    I have to question however, the implication that Dickens’s characters did not show change because of their stereotyped personalities. Ebenezer Scrooge for example, is perhaps the most changed character ever to fill the pages of a book. I think a person inevitably changes when the circumstances of their life change. They may not change 180 degrees or turn from ebony black to glaring white. But they may have a change of heart, a differing of opinion about something or someone, or a relaxing of or intensifying of their emotional reaction to some issue. They might not abandon all cowardice in favor of absolute fearlessness. But they might learn to scrape up enough courage to open their mouth in a public forum where they previously were afraid to speak. A character changes when the character’s world changes. We adapt to new environments. We re-assess our lives as we gain new information.

    There are those who will never change. Pride is the reason. Most people are content with who they are and are thus determined to maintain their course. Newton’s laws basically say that a particle will not change direction until a force acts upon it from another direction. So it is with our character. We will not change direction mentally until an idea acts upon our minds with sufficient force to make us change course. Humans, if they are proud, are experts at building fortresses around their minds so that no force can possibly act upon it without successfully sieging their castle. The humble person is the one most capable of change. They are the ones that respect and invite in new ideas, making themselves susceptible to the forces that inspire change.

    • Good point! I didn’t mean to imply that Dickens never had characters change. Main characters always do. I mean to imply he leaned on these “single trait” stereotypes for his secondary characters. It was masterfully done so his characters were memorable through long stories, even if they only had a few lines here and there.

      Pride is definitely a factor in change. It could also inspire change, however. I’m sure pride is a big motivating factor in people becoming rock stars, for example. Still, it’s a very good point. How much harder is it to get a dwarf to change their mind, because of their legendary stubbornness?

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