Most stories have a protagonist that undergoes a change of at least one character trait from Type A to Type B. For instance, a character might go from being timid in the beginning to assertive or aggressive?

But are there stories where a character goes from being timid in the beginning to overly aggressive in the middle, to "responsibly" (and less) aggressive in the end? (For instance, Thelma and Louise would have ended differently if the women had reined in their newly found aggressiveness.) What is an example of such a story?

4 Answers 4


It is possible, as the other answerers have given examples. However, it requires more care.

If you are exploring a balance between two character traits, the method the character uses to about their journey becomes more important than the journey itself. If your character goes from one extreme archetype to another, the story is a clearcut one of "this archetype is better than the other, as found out by the character." Instead, if the character backs off from one extreme to settle in a balance between them, the message is "neither extreme is ideal."

The latter message is tricky. It's trivial to argue that there is a balance to be struck between timidness and aggressiveness, but it is hard for such a story to resound with readers because the correct balance between the extremes for the reader is, by necessity, very different from that of the character. It is not the balance of extremes that is important, but an exploration of how that balance is achieved.

The reader will need to be shown how the character perceives the world and how it perceives the balance that needs to be struck. The reader will need to be shown how the character acts to reach that balance. The story of two timid women turning lawless, before eventually blunting their sharp edges against the long arm of the law and returning to simplicity is a very different story than the story of two timid women turning lawless, before developing self awareness and questioning their actions. Likewise, these are also very different stories from two timid women turning lawless before doing a statistical cost/benefit ratio and deciding that opening a bakery provided a better ROI.

In my opinion, essential to these books will be giving the reader a sense that the character will remain balanced long after the last page of the book. That way the reader can continue learning from the character long after the dust cover is closed.

  • What the character settles on does not have to determine the message. Characters can make foolish (as depicted by the author) decisions; people have been know to cut off their noses to spite their faces (and not recognize or admit even to themselves that they made a mistake). The interpretation of a conclusion can also depend on the reader; e.g., a stoic might view painful consequences for abiding by a principle as affirming that virtue and the character's nobility while a hedonist might view the same result as indicating that the principle is wrong and the character foolish.
    – user5232
    Commented Jun 7, 2015 at 20:55

I assume you don't mean the character returns to their original timidity, rather to an "older and wiser" state. As such the structure seems something like a Hegelian dialectic (thesis/antithesis/synthesis or abstract/negative/concrete) played out by a single character.

I haven't read Chuck Palahniuk's novel, but the film Fight Club runs along these general lines. The extreme aggression, shall we say, outlives its productive usefulness and eventually is tamed by a kind of assimilation.

Hamlet is by nature passive. He kills Polonius and drives Ophelia to suicide with his wild aggression, then reins it in a bit (albeit not a lot) in order to focus on his real target. Of course he's not "responsibly" anything at the very end, he's dead.

Michael Moorcock's various "eternal champion" characters often follow a pattern of being spurred by events from passivity or naivety into an act of excessive aggression, leading to a lengthy period of regret. Of these, both Elric of Melniboné and John Daker / Erekosë receive a classic external "push to action" early on, and destroy entire civilisations before reaching more serene states.

You could perhaps say that Bathsheba Everdene follows a path of this sort in Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. She's not quite timid initially, but she's less directly assertive until her circumstances change. Then she does become more headstrong and rash until disasters result and she finds a more even keel. I suppose her final state isn't really a reversion, more of a transcendence of her previous progression.

For an example where the protagonist ends up more passive than they started, consider Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Here there's no synthesis, Winston Smith's recently-found passion and activity are simply beaten out of him.

The various authors here haven't necessarily set out explicitly to write a character overshooting and then reverting, although where they learn lessons this is no accident. The characters follow something like the pattern you're looking for, but the importance of this fact to the structures of the stories varies.


The classic Flowers For Algernon - amazon link by Daniel Keyes is a great example of this type of thing. The main character is mentally challenged, becomes extremely smart and then reverts to his old self again. Along the way there is a lot of learning.

In that book the transformation of the character draws a lot of questions out about how other people are affected by a person who becomes succesful and much more


This may not be quite what you're looking for but there is a Marvel comic book story similar to this. In the comic, Spider-man and Storm meet Rogue, the girl who steals people's abilities by touching them. At first, Rogue is scared of her powers, but she then steals Storm's powers and becomes extremely power-hungry and destructive, before finally realizing what she did and giving back the powers, presumable becoming more reserved in the process.

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