Change of Heart

This blog post was inspired by several picture book critiques that I recently did for my Writer’s Digest webinar, but it applies to novels as well. Deep and personal change in your main character is one of the most important elements in your fiction. If you can create that on your page, your audience’s involvement and investment cements forever. A lot of the time, climactic plot moments should rub up against these instances of deep personal change. When your character’s heart hardens, or softens. When one of their core defining values is broken down, or reinforced. When they make the most difficult decision of their lives. These instances are what great storytelling is made of.

Sometimes, though, a change of heart just happens to a character. They don’t like someone and then, well, they wake up one day and feel differently and then the writer continues the plot from that new perspective. The only problem is, any emotional turning point is an Event-with-an-E. Or it deserves to be, because it has great power potential with readers. Just like the beginning paragraph of your novel, every chapter opening, and every chapter button are Prime Real Estate in your writing, emotional turning points are hot spots that you absolutely must exploit.

From the smallest changes of heart to the most important, I need to be able to point to the very instant on the page where your character turns a corner. It will usually happen in reaction to something in your plot and be expressed mostly in Interiority (your character’s thoughts, feelings, reactions). After that, their new attitude or feeling about a person or situation will filter down and express itself in how they behave in scene and during the plot. But that moment when they see something differently has to be present.

I talk a lot more about this in my upcoming book, which I swear will have a cover and official title very soon! For now, though, do go back and examine your character’s emotional turning points and make sure that you’re juicing every last bit of resonance from them. This goes double for picture books, where you have a lot less text to work with. Sure, real kids change their minds all the time, but fictional ones need to be very strongly motivated in order for their emotional logic to make sense to the youngest readers.

9 Replies to “Change of Heart”

  1. I love the thought of “juicing every last bit of resonance from them.” Makes me want to start squeezing. 🙂

  2. Can the change be subtle as long as the reader can go back and point to the instant it occurred? Should we show the change first in the Interiority then followed with exterior action or can it be meshed together in an action (decide and react situation)?

  3. A couple of years ago I saw a production of Pride & Prejudice that, to my thinking, cut the line that is the single catalyst for Darcy’s change of heart–despite being an otherwise reasonably good production, that cut ripped the guts out of the story for me. In the end I came home and did my own adaptation and produced it with my own company, so I can’t be too angry with the other playwrights, but it was still painful at the time.

    So, yes!

  4. Deep and personal change. Noted. Thanks for the tip! I totally agree. Change of heart is often what moves me the most in movies and in novels. Good thing to keep in mind while I work on my next book!

  5. I’m learning that these “changes of heart” are even more important in sci-fi/fantasy. i used to write about nothing more than magical swords or superfast spaceships. But without character archs, all that stuff is just boring. 🙁

  6. Great tip to keep in mind…thanks! I also liked, “juicing every last bit of resonance from them. This goes double for picture books, where you have a lot less text to work with.”
    Guess I’ll be squeezing my mc tonight.

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