Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What Happens When Your Protagonist Changes Their Mind?

Warning:  This post will have spoilers.  If I bring up a book or movie you haven't read, be warned, you will discover things. 

Hi!  This is Grace.

So my last post talked about how no character is totally right or wrong from everyone's point of view. This means that eventually your protagonist is going to come across ideas that he or she doesn't agree with.  What happens then?  Most people might say their main character retains their firm belief and continues to accomplish their task.

But what if that didn't happen?

What if your character changed his mind?  What if your character changed sides?

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This is shocking, I know.  After all, aren't protagonists supposed to have one specific opinion which directly opposes their antagonist?  Wouldn't it be interesting (and a massive shock to your reader) if your protagonist began to wonder if maybe the antagonist was right?

Of course this would have ripple effects throughout the book.  For example, if your protagonist wasn't alone in his quest, does he convince everyone else to join him or does he turn against his followers?  Does he make his decision suddenly, or is this a problem he's struggled with for a while?  

An example of this would be Tony Stark in Captain America: Civil War.  When the government wants to control the Avengers, Tony is totally on board.  Why?  Because he has realized that they cause damage wherever they go and need to be put in check.  Suddenly the Avengers are fighting each other, because a main character changed his mind and joined what some people see to be the "bad guys".  Now there's debate about that, and Faith's last post expands upon the reader's point of view, but you see where I'm going.  While we kind of saw this coming, it adds a twist that we might not have been expecting in, say, the first Avengers movie.

What if you don't want your character to change his mind?  Well this is where it gets tricky.  We humans aren't naturally wired to fight for something we don't believe in.  When an idea comes up that we don't agree with, especially something big, we tend to oppose it.  Just look at like, all of history.  So when your character comes across something she can't support or discovers that she can no longer support something she used to uphold as true, we have problems. 

The important thing to remember is that forcing an out-of-character act is one of the biggest mistakes you can make, and if your character does do something that opposes who they are as a person, they must have a very good reason.  If you discover that your character, a person with their own thoughts and personality, really wouldn't support say, the rebel alliance that they're supposed to be leading, the best thing to do in that situation is to have your character change sides.  Of course, you could also have the character be under someone's thumb and have no choice about what they're doing, but don't force your character to do something simply because you're the author.  Give them a good reason.  

Empathy is very important in this situation.  Maybe your protagonist listened to your antagonist's monologue and suddenly realized that this person they'd been fighting all along actually has valid motives for what they're doing.  

What can this do for the plot?  Well now that everyone disagrees with each other, you have all kinds of options.  Maybe the protagonist finds out the people he first followed had problems and begins to fight against them.  Maybe you end the book with him realize that the antagonist is wrong.  Maybe everyone's wrong and your hero has a massive existential crisis!  Now that your hero's turned against everything he's ever known and loved, he's got some serious issues to work out.

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Anakin Skywalker is also a good example of this twist.  As he gets pulled to the dark side, he pulls away from what we see as the good side.  Senator Palpatine changes his mind.  Then, of course, he becomes Darth Vader and ruins everyone's lives.  

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And all of a sudden, into my head pops the plot twist of all plot twists. 

What if your protagonist secretly supported the antagonist the entire time?  What if your protagonist WAS the antagonist?
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This is, of course beside the point, but I had to say it.  I mean, how amazing would that be?  Of course it would then make your readers feel like this:

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But hey, that's the writer's life, am I right?


  1. I adore the idea of the protagonist changing their mind, but it's so so rare to find! Or if you do find it, it's usually the bad guy being turned onto the good guys side. Then it usually ends with them dying. I would definitely read a well written book where the good guys change sides!

  2. Yeah. A lot of people tend to give their characters black-and-white boundaries, but that is like, the opposite of real life. And if a bad guy can become good, can't a good guy go bad? (or what the other people see as bad...hmmm)

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