"Supposed to" is a terrible phrase in the world of creativity. I find myself wrestling with it all the time when I write. We're "supposed to" show, not tell. We're "supposed to" stay away from adverbs. We're "supposed to" make sure something significant wrenches "life as usual" from beneath the protagonist at the end of act I. Who knew so few words could exert so much pressure on a writer?
Currently, I'm working on the sequel to Curse Bearer, a book I'm tentatively calling A Voice Within. Whether that name will stick through the completion of the book, who knows...since I've taken what the book was in rough draft form and demolished it, and am now fairly certain I will only retain the vaguest plot markers from the original. But I'm wrestling currently with the big "supposed to" of character development:
The main character is "supposed to" undergo a paradigm-shifting change of attitude that will take them from a destructive or unworkable set of behaviors and move them toward a more victorious mindset. At least that's how it goes if you're writing a happy ending, which I am.
Jeff Gerke's terminology) to work out for her in this book. I could manufacture one, but right now, I view her more as a character who knows what she needs to do--she just has to get trained up enough to do it.
A discussion of Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader that we had at the West Branch Christian Writer's Conference that brought me to a bit of a crisis point with A Voice Within's story structure. The more we talked about Darth Vader in terms of character "knot" and epiphany, the more I started thinking, "You know, Luke's the protagonist of Star Wars, but he doesn't really change. Sure, he learns things and goes from farm boy to Jedi--but his general desire for truth and his inescapable sense that there's something more out there in the universe he's meant for than operating vaporators, aren't reversed in the original trilogy. They're only built upon to make him an amplified and more capable version of what he was already.
However, Darth Vader, he's the guy you talk about when it comes to discussing someone who has an epiphany that forces a decision between sticking with his usual M.O. and something completely different. He's the one who throws off his loyalty to the Empire (and subsequently the Dark Side) and becomes the agent of change. Arguably, it's Darth Vader who won the day for the rebel alliance, because in choosing to destroy Palpatine, he threw the Imperial forces into disarray, and without that, the rebels would have surely lost.
But anyway, what's all this Star Wars geekery have to do with my writing? It makes me think that here, in book II of Risen Age, that I have to allow an ally to be the character who has the more dynamic inner journey. It's Culduin who stands in the position to have a revelation and change his approach. But the question is, am I deft enough as a writer to allow him to be the changing character? It would be easy to just let Culduin run off with the story, since awesome elves have a way of doing that. But if I allow Culduin to be the character's whose inner journey we explore in this book, can I do that and still finish what I've begun in terms of Curse Bearer's plot? I don't want his character development to cloud my plot vision in terms of Danae's desire to get back to her father in time.
I take comfort in knowing this has been done before. Not only the Darth Vader transformation comes to mind, but the story of Samwise Gamgee. He serves in the role of ally in The Lord of the Rings, but he's the one who changes, not Frodo. So if I can pull off the transformation of a secondary protagonist, at least I'll be in good company.
What about you? Can you think of other examples of great stories where the main character isn't necessarily the one who changes the most? If I can make a study of stories that do this well, I'll be much better armed to try it myself.