This weekend I found myself watching what I believe is the penultimate episode of TV medical drama, House
. In the episode, House is ‘kidnapped’ by his only real friend, Dr. Wilson, for a three day cruise across the country. Wilson received rather unconventional treatment in the previous episode for cancer, and will be finding out in a few days if it worked. On the trip, Wilson acts in a very un-Wilson manner: he flouts the law, eats an 88-ounce steak in an hour, and requests a three-way with a prostitute and a lady bartender. And all along, House watches him and waits. “People don’t change,”
House says. It’s a recurring theme in House’s world. Through all the eight seasons of the show, House has always maintained this belief, right up there with “Everybody lies” and “It’s never lupus.” “People don’t change.”
Change is at the heart of books. We want to see change and growth in characters, it’s part of what makes for a great story. But what if a character doesn’t change? What then?
A while back I wrote a couple of posts
about theUnforgivable Sin
in terms of character, asking if there was something a character could do that would render him irredeemable to readers. In the hands of a skilled author, we can probably forgive anything a character can do. But can we forgive the author if the character doesn’t change?
I ask this question because I’m looking at my ‘first’ novel, something I wrote two years ago for NaNoWriMo. I pitched it in the figurative trunk of my computer, deciding it was really bad, but when I reached an end point on Parallel Lives I took it out and started working on it again, because, I don’t know, maybe I didn’t have anything new in my head to work on, maybe because I thought it was redeemable. So I did some work on it, expanding the story beyond the 52,000 words or so I had managed to crank out for NaNo (By the way, this is NOT the work that I just reached a conclusion on; this one is back on hiatus, but could come back out again). And I realized that this character didn’t change. From the beginning of the story to the end, he doesn’t change.
It seems right for him. It’s the kind of guy he is. I personally think change is difficult for people. Not impossible, as House would hold, but difficult. I look at myself as a man in my mid-forties and, in many ways, I haven’t changed. I’ve learned from some mistakes, but not all of them. And the notion of a character going through a story and not changing seems very logical to me. But what about you? Is lack of change an unforgivable sin for an author? If you reached the end of a 250- or 300-page book and found the main character had not changed at all, would you be upset? Would you throw the book across the room and write nasty reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and your blogs and swear off me forever? Or would it depend on the book itself?
Thanks for reading and commenting, and happy blogiversary toCarrie!
Funny, it’s mine, too, but I’m not nice, so I don’t have anything for you (not yet; maybe I’ll do something later this week or next).