Next Question: How Are You Going to Change Them?

Jun 25, 2007 | This & That, Writing

When you start a book there are two things that are going to happen. You have a story to tell and two people to live with for the next 6-9 months. Two people that you have to like, then you have to turn their lives upside down, torture them a bit and then finally give them the pay off of the happily ever after—but only after they’ve changed.

Yes, changed. Now anyone who’s tried to nudge a man toward leaving the toilet seat down at night can relate to this. It just ain’t easy. No one likes to change. None of us do. We are hardwired with our own self-definition, that idea of who and what we are, and it takes a huge catalyst to get us to shake that self-definition. But what makes good fiction great is watching a character in the process of change, or a re-definition of their self-definition.

So while we make like our characters to begin with, change them we must.

Now here is what I want you to do. Take your hero and heroine and jot down their self-definition. Who do they think they are? What is their deep down definition of who they are? What are the guiding principals of their life? This doesn’t have to be long winded or pages long. Just a sentence or two that defines this character. For LOVE LETTERS FROM A DUKE, Felicity’s begining self-definition was something like this:

I have trained to be a duchess all my life, and I will marry no one less than a duke.

Now here is something to consider: a self-definition is not necessarily true. Don’t we all tell lies to ourselves about ourselves all the time? Felicity is a good example. While she lives her entire life with only the goal of becoming a duchess, the hero will show her that she’s missing the rest of her life by living by such a narrow definition.

Think of the wallflower who daydreams of being the Original. While she sees herself as tongue-tied and clumsy, perhaps the hero discovers her sense of humor, her passionate side, her kindness to others and through his love, she discovers the strength to overcome her former self-definition.

So write down those self-definitions and see how you can change them through the course of your story. Blend these changes into your brainstorming and see if you don’t come up with more ideas for your plot.

And remember, this is the week you start writing. 10 new pages by the end of the week. Nothing to stress over, just 10 pages.


  1. Shelly S.

    Very good advice. In taking our characters on a journey, we give the story somewhere to go as well. I like the idea of giving them a self-definition that provides ironic obstacles. Say, for example, your Felicity fell in love with a footman…

  2. Janelle

    Elizbo, how do you make sure that they don’t change too much?

  3. Elizabeth

    Actually, Janelle, the best advice is to make them change completely. So that a woman who vows only to marry a duke will willingly marry a footman. That doesn’t mean their essential character changes–they are still a nice person, but their world view, their self-definition has taken a radical or complete shift.

  4. Janelle

    Shelly, are you a published writer?

  5. Shelly S.

    Hey Janelle.
    Define published??? JK. I have been published in tedious technical journals and once when I was 20 a magazine published an (exceedingly bad) 3-part romance.
    Right now I am working toward a goal of being a published author because I really enjoy writing steamy romances a lot more than treatises on the exciting new advances in Septic Systems. To that end, I have played around with several genres and found that it doesn’t matter what I am writing, so long as I am writing, I am happy. (It’s the rejection letters I hate!)
    How about you???

  6. Janelle

    Not yet, but I’m working on it! I just ask because you seem knowledgeable.

  7. Shelly S.

    Well, I’ve been reading romances for over 20 years, and I have been writing just as long (seriously for about 7 years–for the longest time I just called myself a writer but never actually wrote!). I think we work at it and evolve as we learn; at some point it becomes like second nature. You just know things. I think I am there with plotting & writing, but really need to get up to speed with marketing. I think once I master selling my passion, I’ll make it.
    It’s always something!
    Thanks for your kind words tho! Made my day.



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