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Is it a good idea, to make the protagonist pull themselves together at a point in a work of fiction. I've been writing a novel, and for practically the entire first half the main protagonist has been running from everything, scared to kill, generally scared of the battle he has been plunged into. He relies on someone else to help him get through it, that he recently broke away from as he wanted to escape from the thing entirely.

Is it a good idea to have these two characters come back together, fast forward a few weeks and continue the story? After that event, and those few weeks which nothing exciting happens in so I don't need to go through them, the main protagonist thinks "Okay, if I run from everything nothing is going to change. Let's put an end to this once and for all."

Is there a better way to put across such a massive change in attitude? Is this a good move to pull off? I've written this at about 50k words in the novel, so the protagonist has been being scared for a while. I'm worried that the change will be too sudden and the reader would not respond well to it.

If I skip forward one week, is that too far forward to skip?

  • Another thing that would help being about such a change faster would be some kind of death. Perhaps some kind stranger helps your protagonist, only to be killed/have their life ruined because of it. – Xandar The Zenon Apr 18 '16 at 13:10
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First of all, your protagonist almost must change, or there's not much point to your book. If s/he does not at some point stop running and pull him/herself together, your reader will feel like the book is a waste of time.

To make it seem not rushed or fake, you need two things:

  • sufficient buildup before the epiphany
  • to give enough space to the epiphany that the reader believes it

By "buildup" I mean the protagonist has to be thinking about the things which will lead up to the epiphany before it happens. S/he feels afraid, but you have to show the terrible things and you have to show how the terrible things affect the character. Then the character briefly needs to reflect on or think about the gradual pileup of scary things — and by "brief" I mean a paragraph or two a chapter, but on an ongoing basis — and also to think about how things could be better. If only I could do X or If only Y were different, then the scary things would stop or be defeated.

When the character is finally at rock bottom, then the desire to change will outweigh the fears of not acting. Remember that the fears don't have to go away. The character does not magically have to stop shaking, or stop being afraid. The character just has to push on through the fear and act anyway. This is "pulling it together."

This scene shouldn't be only a few paragraphs; it should probably be a few pages. The reader needs to believe that the protagonist has genuinely weighed the choices and felt that moving forward was better than avoiding risk.

  • Is two pages enough? Instead of pushing through the fear, my character has realised that his little helper minion won't turn on him. That's why he's got this sudden epiphany of "Finish this." – Daniel Cann Apr 11 '16 at 5:40
  • you won't know until you write it. – Lauren-Reinstate-Monica-Ipsum Apr 11 '16 at 10:23
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    I've already written it, but I was editing it, and I felt as though I could drastically improve it. Your answer helped me improve it a massive amount, thanks. – Daniel Cann Apr 11 '16 at 15:03
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What do you think the reader will expect? I don't think that when reading your novel, they will think: "Well, he is going to be scared the rest of the novel, he will never do anything, the end." I think, that by creating the conflict, and the scared protagonist, the readers will expect him to not be scared at some point, and do something about the conflict. You already created the premise for the protagonist to change, now you only need him to do it in a believable way.

I don't think skipping a week is a problem, if you explain in one way or another to the readers what happened, briefly or not. Really simple would be to say: "As the weeks passed by, he realized running away was taking him nowhere. All those days he was trying to get away were just time wasted. insert more here" Not the best example, but I hope you get the meaning.

When you have written the 'transition', just let your beta readers see it and ask them how sudden/fake it sounds.

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To me, your question sounds, as if you have trouble showing the gradual development of your character. A good discussion of how to provide well-rounded characters arcs is provided, for example, in

  • Chris Vogler's The Writer's Journey: This was the most helpful book I've ever read about storytelling. It adresses the very essence of what a story is and how it works, i.e.: It discusses the dynamics of storytelling.
  • K.M. Weiland's Structuring your Novel is much less concerned with the dynamics of a story and feels a bit formulaic at times. Still, it gives you a good idea of how to apply the infinite wisdom of the Hero's Journey (sorry for getting carried away with the Hero's Journey, I just love it). This book is more about practice and not so much about understanding.

Concerning your question (and speaking as someone who focuses very much on the development of characters), I would definitly be taken aback by an epiphany that comes out of the blue. Sometimes, this happens. However, I'm not interested in stuff that "just happens". I want to be presented with a thorough interpretation of why it happens.

The generic answer to this question is (and it really boils down to this in every single story): The transformation of the main character had to happen, because otherwise, he would have died. This is a drastic statement, but I truly believe it is true. Transformation is painful, tedious, and everything but comfortable. Think of the transformations you have gone through: Pubity sucks, losing weight (or gaining it) is a constant struggle, realizing that you will never be with the boy you are so helplessly in love with rips your heart apart. Nobody chooses to undergo a transformation because of all the fun it will be. People change, because they have no other choice.

That being said, you need to make sure that your main character has no other choice but to grow out of his fear. Build up the pressure he is under gradually and increase the strain his hesitation puts on him. Have him doubt his apathy. Then, when his entire world is on the brink of collapsing due to his passivity, make him realize it actually is in his power to prevent this dire fate. As far as I see it, this is the heart piece of your story. Hence, do not attenuate it by understressing it or not preparing it meticulously. In the words of Weiland: Make it big, make it fast.

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I think the previous answers are better than what I am about to tell you but if it was me writing it I'd give my character a REASON to stop running. I would have my character witness something so horrible s/he would realize that there is no running,that they personally would have to do something about it for the sake of others (or even just him/herself) s/he would have to stand and fight because something so terrible cannot be left to rule. For instance:

A Character who is living in a time of slavery has it pretty good even though he himself is a slave. He sees others rebelling against their slavers but doesn't feel the need to fight even though others around him are dying for this cause and he has seen some slight mistreatment around him. Others beg for his help but he doesn't want any part, choosing to remain in his 'sanctuary' until one day he is with someone he loves (who happens to be among the rebels) This person he's with sees a slave child being beaten to death (kinda dark but I'm trying to make a point) s/he goes to the child's rescue and as a result both are killed. The man sees now that this fight cannot be avoided, this evil must be put to an end. Now this man has the revelation, he pulls himself together, joins the fight and he does it for a reason. Not because he's simply rethinking his actions, but because he wants revenge and/or an end to this injustice. He has a REASON to fight now, and thus, a reason to pull himself together. Hope this has helped :)

  • You could place this sort of revelation during the week mentioned if that works with your timeline :) – ShadowAuthor Apr 10 '16 at 20:58
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First of all, every main character in the history of the world has to change in a certain way.

That's how you know your character has grown.

Whether it be coming out of their shell, growing up, or learning new things, your character has to change and learn something at the end of any story.

Now, your character can't just change.

There has to be buildup, hints at a braver inside, at a stronger personality underneath the fear. A person can't become fearless in a week. They need time to grow and need to have a valid reason to.

This change should take nearly the entire book to work believably, because no one starts as a total introvert and becomes a international singer overnight. They have to face their fears and defeat them.

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