08 May 2009

Character Transformation

The moment the protagonist is hit with the decision whether to change or remain the same either comes at the:
  • 1/2 way point (based on the page or scene count) or
  • 3/4 mark or the Crisis 
In some stories, the character emotional development plot line (CED) "wake-up call" occurs at the 1/2 way point. 

In other stories, the CED plot hits simultaneously with the dramatic action (DA) plot line at the 3/4 mark or the Crisis, the moment of greatest energetic impact in the story so far .

Either way, after the Crisis, the character is left to decide whether to take the hit to heart or not.

If the character understands the part she plays in her inability to achieve her long term goals and is willing to change, thus begins her conscious move toward transformation.

Keep in mind this forward movement is not smooth.

The best way I can explain how this path unfolds is to use an example from my life before I started writing and helping other writers develop the plot and structure of their stories. 

Years ago I had a clinic for kids with speech, language, and learning disabilities. When working with kids to master a new skill, I found they generally pass through three distinct stages:

1) Emergence -- in other words, the "new" behavior reveals itself only intermittently and when the child is consciously aware and trying. However, in play and when the child is not concentrating, the predominate behavior continues to be the "old" way.

This is also true of the protagonist after they decide to banish their inappropriate behavior or try to change a deeply entrenched negative habit. 

2) Regression -- in most cases, when the "new" behavior becomes more and more habituated, the time come when the child slides back to the "old" behavior. This set-back can be caused by stress or change. However, often, it is merely a time when the "old" behavior gives one last great gasp in its attempt to hold the child back. 

If the CED plot line Crisis hits at the 1/2 way point, then the regression or set-back takes place at the 3/4 mark and usually has a direct influence on the DA Crisis. If the CED plot line crisis hits at the Crisis at the 3/4 mark then the regression will come closer to the Climax at the end.

3) Mastery -- most of us do not come to mastery over an old habit without some struggle. Eventually, if effort is put forth and the "new" behavior is consciously worked on, mastery will come. Parents do not always understand this. They expect that with consciousness of how to perform the "new" behavior mastery is automatic. In the classroom, I often found that teachers shared the same expectations. Kids are tested on the information at a mastery level rather than as an emerging behavior 1st and mastery over time.

Lots of writers I work with operate under the same assumption. The Crisis hits. The protagonist's eyes are open as to how their flaw interferes with them attaining their life goal. Automatic mastery. Wrong!

This is almost never the case in real life or in stories. Try it yourself. Decide to change a behavior that has been habituated over time. See how many mistakes you make and revert back to the "old" behavior before you find yourself at a mastery level.

Mastery for the protagonist is shown in all its glory at the Climax at the end of the book where the character shows their true and ultimate transformation.