Category Archives: Character Growth

Paths of Character Growth

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Here are six ways in which your Main Character can flirt with change over the course of your story, up to the climax where they will either embrace change or reject it, as Scrooge accepts change in A Christmas Carol while William Wallace remains resolute in Braveheart.

Let’s take a look at each of these six kinds of characters, and how they respond to pressures on their belief system, morality, attitude or personal code.

1. The Steady Freddy

This kind of Main Character starts out with a fixed belief about the central personal issue of the story. Act-by-Act, Scene-by-Scene, he gathers more information that leads him to question those pre-held beliefs. His hold on the old attitude gradually weakens until, at the Moment of Truth, he simply steps over to the other side – or not. This kind of character slowly changes until he is not committed to either his original belief or the alternative. It all comes down to which way the wind is blowing when he ultimately must choose one or the other.

2. The Griever

A Griever Main Character is also confronted with building evidence that his original belief may have been in error. But unlike Steady Freddy, this character suffers a growing internal conflict that starts to tear him apart. The Griever feels honor-bound or morally obligated to stick with his old loyalties, yet becomes more and more compelled to jump ship and adopt the new. At the end of the story, he must make a Leap of Faith, choosing either the old or the new, and with such a balance created, there is not even a hint as to which way would ultimately be better.

3. The Weaver

The Weaver Main Character starts out with one belief system, then shifts to adopt the alternative, then shifts back again, and again, and again…. Like a sine wave, he weaves back and forth every time he confronts information that indicates he is currently in error in his point of view. The intensity of these swings depends upon the magnitude of each bit of new information and the resoluteness of the character.

4. The Waffler

Unlike the Weaver, the Waffler jumps quickly from one point of view to the other, depending on the situation of the moment. He may be sincere but overly pragmatic, or he may be opportunistic and not hold either view with any real conviction.  Still, in the end, he must come down on one side of the fence or the other.

There are also two kinds of characters who change, but not really.

5. The Exception Maker

This character reaches the critical point of the story and decides that although he will retain his original beliefs, he will make an exception “in this case.” This character would be a Change character if the story is about whether or not he will budge on the particular issue, especially since he has never made an exception before. But, if the story is about whether he has permanently altered his nature, then he would be seen as steadfast, because we know he will never make an exception again. With the Exception Maker, you must be very careful to let the audience know against what standard it should evaluate Change.

6. The Backslider

Similar to the Exception Maker, the Backslider changes at the critical moment, but then reverses himself and goes right back to his old belief system. In such a story, the character must be said to change, because it is the belief system itself that is being judged by the audience, once the moment of truth is past and the results of picking that system are seen in the denoument. In effect, the Backslider changes within the confines of the story structure, but then reverts to his old nature AFTER the structure in the closing storyTELLING.

An example of this occurs in the James Bond film, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” This is the only Bond film in which 007 actually changes. Here, he has finally found love which has filled the hole in his heart that previously drove him. He resigns the force and gets married. End of structure. Then, in additional storytelling, his wife is killed by the villain, and his angst is restored so good ol’ James Bond can return just as he was in the next sequel.


Each of these kinds of characters may be aware that he or she is flirting with change or may not. They may simply grieve over their situations, or just breeze through them, not considering how they might be affected. Each of these characters may arrive at a Leap of Faith where they must make a conscious decision to do things the same way or a different way, or each may arrive at a Non-Leap of Faith story conclusion, where they never even realize they have been changed, though they have been, gradually. The important thing is that the readers or audience must know if the Main Character has changed or not. Otherwise, they cannot make sense of the story’s message.

There are many ways to Change or Not to Change. If you avoid a linear path and a binary choice, your characters will come across as much more human and much more interesting.

Design your main character’s journey of growth
with StoryWeaver Story Development Software

StoryWeaver will take you step-by-step from concept to fully developed story.  More than 200 interactive Story Cards (TM) guide you through each step and automatically reference your work on previous steps.  So, your story is constantly evolving as you revise, refine, and fold each version into the next.

With our 90 day money-back guarantee you can try StoryWeaver risk-free.

And, even if you choose not to keep it, you still get to keep our Writer’s Survival Kit Bonus Package!

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Main Character Growth

By Melanie Anne Phillips

Your main character doesn’t have to change in order to grow; they can grow in their resolve not to change.  Some characters, like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol or Rick in Casablanca , do change, while others, like Rocky in Rocky or William Wallace in Braveheart, hold onto their beliefs.

Either way, your main character will face increasing pressure to alter his or her belief system, moral outlook, or manner of thinking as the story progresses.  At the climax, they may stick to their guns and hold on to their beliefs, having faith that in the end this will resolve their personal problems because those beliefs have always worked before.  Or, they may become convinced they have it wrong, at least in this particular situation, and they abandon their previous beliefs to embrace an alternative way of thinking and/or feeling about the situation.

For the character, there is no way to tell which way of choosing will lead to a positive outcome and which will lead to personal disaster.  That is why such a choice is referred to as a “leap of faith.”

Yet not all stories require the character to make a conscious choice to change or not at the climax.  Sometimes, a character’s belief system is changed gradually over the course of the story, and they may not even realize it has happened.  It is only at the climax that the readers or audience may see that the main character responds differently than they previously had, showing that the story-long experience has finally reached a point at which the character simply tips the other way.

In fact, the character may never realize they have changed.  But, the readers or audience need to know or there really is no message for the story.  The message is made by the author showing, after the climax, whether it was the right path for the character to have changed or to have remained steadfast.

In summary, if you want a strong message for your story, you need to be clear as to whether or not your main character has changed and also whether that led  to a better or worse personal situation in the end.

Design your main character’s journey of growth
with StoryWeaver Story Development Software

StoryWeaver will take you step-by-step from concept to fully developed story.  More than 200 interactive Story Cards (TM) guide you through each step and automatically reference your work on previous steps.  So, your story is constantly evolving as you revise, refine, and fold each version into the next.

With our 90 day money-back guarantee you can try StoryWeaver risk-free.

And, even if you choose not to keep it, you still get to keep our Writer’s Survival Kit Bonus Package!

Click for more details or to order…

Should Your Main Character Start or Stop?


Over the course of your story, the Main Character will either grow out of something or grow into something.  Authors show their audiences how to view this development of a Main Character by indicating the direction of Growth by the Main Character.

If the story concerns a Main Character who Changes, he will come to believe he is the cause of his own problems (that’s why he eventually changes).  If he grows out of an old attitude or approach (e.g. loses the chip on his shoulder), then he is a Stop character.  If he grows into a new way of being (e.g. fills a hole in his heart), then he is a Start character.

If the story concerns a Main Character who Remains Steadfast, something in the world around him will appear to be the cause of his troubles.  If he tries to hold out long enough for something to stop bothering him, then he is a Stop character.  If he tries to hold out long enough for something to begin, then he is a Start character.

If you want the emphasis in your story to be on the source of the troubles which has to stop, choose “Stop.”  If you want to emphasize that the remedy to the problems has to begin, choose “Start.”

This tip was excerpted from:


Psychology, Personality, Persona & Perception – The 4 P’s Revisited

Some time ago, I wrote a short article describing the four P’s of character: Psychology, Personality, Persona and Perception.

Psychology was described as the underlying structure and dynamics of a character’s given mind set.  Personality were the interests and mannerisms of a character that define the specific areas to which its psychology is applied.  Persona is the face a character presents to the world – its apparent personality which enhances some things, diminishes other and adds or eliminates traits and attributes that don’t really exist in its actual personality.  Finally, Perception is how a character tailors or applies its persona to adapt to or manipulate specific people and/or situations.

My understanding of the four P’s emerged from my work on a new book entitled, The Story Mind, which is intended to document and advance the concept that every narrative operates as a model of the mind’s operating system.

In fiction, this means that characters represent facets of the overall mind of the story itself in addition to being real people in their own right.  In the real world, it means that people automatically self-organize into groups structured by narrative in which each participant evolves into a role within the group an a facet of the group mind, becoming the voice of reason, for example.  In this manner the problem-solving capacity of the group as a whole is enhanced by having each member specialize in a different aspect of problem solving, rather than simply being a collection of parallel processors all trying to attack the central issue from all sides as general practitioners.

In the ongoing development of the Story Mind book, I have come to focus more and more on the real world implications of narrative theory.  In fact, so much new material is emerging that I felt it would be worthwhile to jot down this quick article outlining some of the more intriguing applications.

For some twenty years we have described how a main character in a story who is by nature a do-er, would be an uncomfortable participant in deliberation/decision story in which they are required to soul-search and perhaps superficially adopt an attitude in order to affect the participation of others and even as a requirement to achieve the goal.

Similarly, a main character who is by nature a be-er would be uncomfortable in a story that required them to take action rather than influence others in order to achieve the goal.

Yet new understandings indicate that even archetypal objective characters such as Protagonist, Antagonist, Reason or Emotion, who are not the main character (not the individual grappling with the story’s central message issue or moral) may still suffer internal dissonance in fulfilling their structurally mandated role within the greater Story Mind.

A reluctant Protagonist or an emotionally-driven individual forced to function as the Reason archetype will suffer a growing angst caused by their situational inability to respond in a manner appropriate to their true make-up, their true underlying psychology.

Similarly, an actor in a role in an ongoing television series or long-term stage production may find that the character they portray chafes at their inner self if it is a poor fit.  Depending on the magnitude of this dissonance an actor may be unsuccessful in being able to continue to portray their character in the long term – partially due to the internal strain and partly due to their declining ability to show the character to the audience with complete integrity.

Even if an actor in dissonance with their character can overcome their internal angst and continue to portray that fictional psychology, their own blind spots will provide weak spots in their presentation in which inconsistent attributes belonging to the actor may slip into the performance unnoticed, thereby rendering a character that the audience will see as not ringing true.  In addition, things a given character would certainly do may never come to the mind of the actor if the fit is too poor.

Conversely, if the fit is close but not exact, continued portrayal may cause the actor to gradually alter their own underlying psychology to match that of the character, losing themselves in the role.  In this case, once the role is over, the actor has become the character in real life, at least in a psychological sense, and even during the role the actor may begin to respond more as the character than as themselves.  In fact, method acting is all about immersion in a role, but the psychological process of behavioral modification is always at work. In the real world this leads to such scenarios as the Stockholm Syndrome in which a victim comes to side with the perpetrator.

Naturally, the degree of dissonance and the length of the portrayal are the essential moderating factors which determine if an actor will be successful in playing a given character and whether or not the actor will be altered by the process and to what degree.

Taking all of this into consideration, we can see that fictional characters must illustrate this dissonance within the narrative itself.  At the next level, an actor must not only portray that dissonance, but be alert to the actual dissonance which may grown within themselves.  And finally, in the real world, we should all take stock, from time to time, whether our Psychology, Personality, Persona and Perception are (individually or in some combination) creating dissonance with and alteration of our essential natures in our own lives, for good or for bad.

For more information on real world narratives, read my article The False Narrative

Melanie Anne Phillips
Co-creator, Dramatica

Main Character Resolve: Change or Steadfast?

Some Main Characters grow to the point of changing their nature or attitude regarding a central personal issue like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Others grow in their resolve, holding onto their nature or attitude against all obstacles like Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive.

Change can be good if the character is on the wrong track to begin with. It can also be bad if the character was on the right track. Similarly, remaining Steadfast is good if the character is on the right track, but bad if she is misguided or mistaken.

The Main Character represents the audience’s position in the story. Therefore, whether she changes or not has a huge impact on the audience’s story experience and the message you are sending to it.

Many authors never specifically determine whether they want their Main Characters to change or not.  Rather, they focus on growth and a general feeling of how things turn out.  But characters don’t grow just from change; one can also grow in one’s resolve, becoming more stubbornly attached to a point of view or purpose in the face of increasing obstacles.

Only by knowing if a character changed or remained steadfast can an audience/reader understand the story’s message of success of failure, and whether the Main Character ended up happy, sad or anywhere in between.

Tighten and strengthen your story’s message by making an explicit choice of change or steadfast, clearly convey that choice at your story’s moment of climax, and then use the conclusion (denouement) of your story to show whether that choice was the proper one to make and why.

Main Character’s Resolve

Dramatica asks 12 Essential Questions every author should be able to answer about his or her story. Four deal with the Main Character, four with Plot, and the remaining four with Theme.

The first of these questions is Main Character Resolve, and asks:

By the end of your story, has the Main Character “Changed” or remained “Steadfast?”

Traditionally, it has been taught that a character must change in order to grow. This is not actually the case. A character may grow in his resolve. For example, Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive never changes the nature of his character. Rather, he redoubles his resolve in order to cope with the increasing obstacles placed in his path.

There is a character in The Fugitive who DOES change, however, and that is Sam Girard, the Tommy Lee Jones character. At the beginning of the story, he tells Kimble, “I don’t care,” when Kimble says that he didn’t kill his wife. At the end of the story, Girard comes to believe in Kimble’s innocence, removes Kimble’s handcuffs and offers him a compress to ease the soreness they caused. Kimble says, “I thought you didn’t care…” Girard replies with gentle sarcasm, “I don’t,” then adds, “Don’t tell anybody…”

Girard is the Obstacle Character to Kimble’s Main. For every Main and Obstacle character, one will change as a result of the others steadfastness. In essence, because Kimble cares so much (as evidenced by the many people he helps even when on the run) Girard changes his nature and begins to care himself.

Another example of this can be found in the James Bond film, “Goldfinger.” In this story, Bond remains steadfast but someone does change. Again, it is the Obstacle Character, Pussy Galore (the Honor Blackman part) who runs the Flying Circus. She changes her mind about helping Goldfinger, spills the beans to the CIA and changes the gas canisters from poison to harmless oxygen. It was Bond’s resoluteness, which eventually leveraged her to change.

Examples of Change Main Characters are Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, and Chief Brody in Jaws. In the case of Scrooge, he ultimately makes a conscious decision to change the very foundations of his nature. In contrast, Luke only changes a small aspect of his nature – at the crucial moment he decides to trust the Force (in effect to trust his own abilities, himself) and is therefore able to win the day. Other than that, Luke remains pretty much the same personality he was before. Finally, Chief Brody is afraid of the water and won’t even wade into it. But, after defeating the shark, he has a conversation with Hooper as they swim back to shore. He says, “You know, I used to be afraid of the water.” Hooper replies, “I can’t imagine why.” Brody has also changed, but not by conscious decision, more by attrition. In a sense, Brody has BEEN changed by his story experiences. So, we can see that Change may be universal (Scrooge), specific (Skywalker), or unintentional (Brody).

When a character must make a conscious (active) decision to change, regardless of whether it is his whole personality or just an aspect, it is called a Leap of Faith story. When a character IS changed by the story experience without an active decision, it is called a Non Leap of Faith Story. Both kinds of Change are equally sound dramatic structures, but each creates a different feel over the entire course of the story.

It is important to recognize that Change may lead to success if it is the right choice, or it may lead to failure if the character should have remained Steadfast. Similarly, remaining Steadfast may lead to a positive or negative conclusion.

Also, characters may flip-flop over the course of the story, changing for a while and then changing back. Or, they may grow closer and farther from changing as their experiences proceed. But in the end, the character will be the same person, albeit older and wiser, or they will have some fundamental trait of their character altered, large or small, for better or worse. Regardless of the propriety of the outcome, if the character is different in nature he has changed. If he is the same, he has remained Steadfast.

How the Main Character Changes

Just because a Main Character ultimately remains steadfast does not mean he never considers changing. Similarly, a Change Main Character does not have to be changing all the time. In fact, that is the conflict with which he is constantly faced: to stick it out or to alter his approach in the face of ever-increasing opposition.

Illustrating your Main Character as wavering can make him much more human. Still, if his motivation is strong enough, your Main Character may hold the course or move toward change from the opening scene to the denouement. It all depends on the kind of experience you wish to create for your audience.

There is no right or wrong degree of certainty or stability in a Main Character. Just make it clear to your audience by the end of the story if he has been changed or not by the experience. Sometimes this happens by forcing your Main Character to make a choice between his old way of doing things or a new way.

Another way of illustrating your Main Character’s resolve is to establish his reaction in a particular kind of situation at the beginning of the story that tells us something about his nature. After the story’s climax, you can bring back a similar kind of situation and see if he reacts the same way or not. From this, your audience will determine if he has Changed or remained Steadfast.

What if a Main Character Changes when he should Remain Steadfast, or Remains Steadfast when he should Change? Keep in mind that your Main Character’s Resolve describes what your Main Character does without placing a value judgment on him. The appropriateness of his Resolve is determined by other dynamics in your story.

Change & Steadfast Characters in the Real World

In Dramatica theory, characters can grow by changing or by growing in their resolve to remain steadfast.  But how does that translate to the real world?  Here are some examples:


At the end of the story, the Main Character’s basic way of seeing things has changed from what it was at the beginning of the story. For example, a stubborn bounty hunter, who sees every criminal as “guilty,” changes to realize this isn’t true for every criminal and decides that he is chasing an innocent man; a woman who has always put her job before her family changes, and puts her family first by adapting her schedule so she can spend more time with her husband, even though it will mean missing a promotion; etc.


At the end of the story, the Main Character’s basic way of seeing things has remained the same as it was at the beginning of the story. For example, a man wrongly accused of murdering his wife remains steadfast in his pursuit of the real killer believing this will eventually solve his problems; Despite all attempts to convert her, a woman remains true to her faith in her religion believing her God will protect her; etc.

Direction of Main Character Growth

Whether a Main Character eventually changes his nature or remains steadfast, he will still grow over the course of the story. This growth has a direction. Either he will grow into something (Start) or grow out of something (Stop).change in nature. He grows in his resolve to remain unchanged. He can grow by holding out against something that is increasingly bad while waiting for it to Stop

As an example we can look to Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Does Scrooge need to change because he is excessively miserly (Stop), or because he lacks generosity (Start)? In the Dickens’ story it is clear that Scrooge’s problems stem from his passive lack of compassion, not from his active greed. It is not that he is on the attack, but that he does not actively seek to help others. So, according to the way Charles Dickens told the story, Scrooge needs to Start being generous, rather than Stop being miserly.

A Change Main Character grows by adding a characteristic he lacks (Start) or by dropping a characteristic he already has (Stop). Either way, his make up is changed in nature.

A Steadfast Main Character’s make up, in contrast, does not change. Still, he will grow by holding out for something in his environment to Start or to Stop. Either way, the change appears somewhere in his environment instead of in him.

Start and Stop Characters in the Real World

In Dramatica theory, characters can grow by starting a new behavior/attitude or stopping an old one.  But how does that translate to the real world?  Here are some examples:

Start as the Growth  —  The direction of the Main Character’s growth is toward starting something.  The issue of Resolve (Change/Steadfast) has an impact on how to evaluate Growth (Start/Stop), so we’ve included examples which reflect these different contexts.  For example:

Start/Steadfast:  a business man refuses a generous offer to buy his business, holding out in the belief that his son will eventually start taking an interest in running it; etc.

Start/Change:  believing that her lack of confidence is keeping her stuck in a lousy job, a woman starts demanding more of her employees; etc.

Stop as the Growth  —  The direction of the Main Character’s growth is toward stopping something.  The issue of Resolve (Change/Steadfast) has an impact on how to evaluate Growth (Start/Stop), so we’ve included examples which reflect these different contexts.  For example:

Stop/Steadfast:  a radical activist believes she must remain tied to the gates of a nuclear plant so that her example will cause the employees to shut down the plant; etc.

Stop/Change:  For example, a doctor who always pushes her patients too hard for their own good stops when she becomes ill and is treated the same way; etc.