So I'm writing a story, a fanfiction to be specific, and a main character is an aggressive, emotionless, constantly angry man, who swears a lot and doesn't care much about anything. I want him to develop as the story continues, become more sensitive, emotional and caring, and eventually fall deep in love with someone and have strong feelings for them.

Do you think something like that would be possible? And if so, how fastly should his personality change? Should I include a terrific event that will change him?


First of all, let's be clear: "aggressive and angry" is not "emotionless." He's either one or the other.

Second, "a bad man redeemed by the love of a good woman" can fall very easily into cliché. Try to stay away from the broad strokes of that.

If you want someone who's aggressive and angry to calm down and be concerned about others, you must get to the root of his behavior. Why is he like this now? How long has he been like this?

If there was some inciting event (e.g., someone he loved died), then he has to deal with that specific event and get past it.

If he had a rough childhood, or a rough life overall, then you have to explore that background to determine what taught him that aggression was a better solution than diplomacy. There is likely a lot of old pain and fear in the past, and maybe he found that anger made him feel strong and being tough scared off people who would have otherwise hurt him.

The most important factor is that people don't change unless they want to.

Simply putting your love interest (and/or Love Interest's genitals, depending on the rating of your story) in the line of sight of Tall Dark and Angry will not magically make him fall in love and start writing moony poetry. Something about Love Interest has to appeal to Tall Dark and Angry despite the anger and fear.

Someone who has been angry and aggressive for a long time is going to be slow to change, because these become ingrained personality traits. They are also often defense mechanisms. Tall Dark and Angry has to feel safe, and has to trust Love Interest enough to risk being vulnerable in front of this person.

That will take time. This should be a slow-burn romance.


While @Lauren Ipsum's answer is absolutely to the point, I'd like to give you an example: I've also taken up writing a character that is similarly angry, aggressive and generally speaking a jerk.

Then I gave him a love interest, only he didn't realise she was a love interest. For all he knew, she was smart and strong and he decided she belonged to him. Why did she put up with it? A bad case of 'bad guys are sexy syndrome' allied to circumstances that made him the lesser of a few evils.

Up until that point, he hadn't softened the slightest, but since softening him was my objective, I had a kid pop up. I did this because I know of real-life examples where men completely turned their lives and priorities upside-down (for better and for worse) for the sake of their child, and I also researched how things turned out for at least some of those fathers to make sure I wasn't stretching the rope too much.

Facing his own child, his priorities were suddenly rearranged and his sole objective became the well-being of the child. Still no sentimentalities, but he did go back and organise his old life to make sure nothing bad from those times can come and threaten the most important thing in his life.

As the years go by, he discovers that he must at least pretend to get on with the local community for the kid's sake: he needs to know who is who and make sure they're not pedophyles or otherwise accidents waiting to happen. He also needs to be on good terms with parents if the kid is going to be invited to parties. The Love Interest is key here: she gives him the social pointers and, the most important thing, the rewards for keeping up the social front.

Slowly, he starts to have a slight appreciation for a couple of the guys he has to socialise with and, without realising, actually forges some friendships. In the meantime, he comes to fall in love... only he doesn't realise it. He still sees the woman as just being his woman. Sure, he does nice things for her (at first because she would reward him and eventually because it becomes part of the routine... and he does like the rewards), but he still feels love is for suckers and, you know, you can like a woman and not be an in-love asshole.

Basically, I gave him a good reason for him to want to change but he only changed partially. He's still a jerk, by the way, just not as bad and not as aggressive.

Obviously, I'm writing adventure/romance so there's always some action that has him evolve in the right direction. Some of that action also involves facing people and events from his past (the ones he rushed to kick away instead of actually facing and fixing them) which is what makes his aggressive jerk side really get fixed (or as much as possible). But he's never going to be the 'in touch with his feelings' kind of guy. I don't even know if I can realistically make him realise he loves his Love Interest. That aversion to love is just too ingrained in his personality.

What's the point of this all? To stress that your character cannot change quickly. Even if you have a big event force him to re-evaluate his life, you still cannot change abruptly. Just imagine yourself changing your whole way of being in the space of a week: could you do it? And keep at it? No.

The big event can make him want to change (at least a little), but he'll still have to work hard at getting rid of all the bad habits and make a huge effort to create new ones. That's not easy and there are lots of times when you fall back into old habits, which, paradoxically, tend to be more comfortable than the new ones even when you know they're bad for you. Even if he becomes fully aware how wrong his ways have been so far, you still have to break with the bonds of years of acting in a certain way.

Moreover, I don't know much about your character, but I believe that when one decides that emotions are bad for you and then spends an entire life dodging them, even if he has an epiphany and realises he's in love, he's still going to have a hard time acting on that realisation because it means showing emotions. You know, what he spent a lifetime running away from. It's like asking an agoraphobic to go to a busy café daily.


To add to Lauren's excellent answer—the clarity of which could only be explained by a time zone difference (it is Sunday morning here in the States), and before someone else chimes in stating that there is no new stories, but the ones which were already told, are of two kinds: plot-driven and character-driven—a story of someone whose perception of the world or relationship with another character changes drastically in the course of it, is not new. It is, basically, every other story in the history of literature.

Which does not mean that your story will be less interesting or original, because it all depends on how you tell it. This foggy attempt of an answer is not by any means intended to discourage you from writing, quite the opposite—you should go ahead and tackle this with all your might.

However, the fact that you are asking this question, made me alert, because it means that you do not have a story in your head. If you had it, you would not be asking if this evolution of a character is possible, you would just write it.

Writing a profound character arch for the sake of having one is a risky endeavor, but if you are a discovery writer, such as myself, just go for it and see what you can learn from the experience.

Best of luck (you will need it)!

  • you make an excellent point about not having a story in mind. I think considering the character's internal arc will help spark the outline of a story idea (aka plot bunny). – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum May 7 '17 at 14:11

You are writing a story, not a psychology textbook. Stories appeal to our hopes and to our sense that the world is (or our wish that it should be) a fundamentally orderly place, by which I mean a place with a fundamental moral order. Virtue is rewarded. Vice is punished. Love conquers all.

Whether you believe that the world actually has a fundamental moral order or not is a religious and philosophical question. But in story terms, people very much crave that sense of moral order. A fundamentally unjust universe is a little more frightening of a place than most of us are willing to live in day by day.

Stories provide a reassurance of the fundamental orderliness and justice of the universe that we need to get through our days. After all, how else could we have such strong feelings about endings. So much of our enjoyment of a story depends on whether we feel it has a good ending of a bad ending. Yet unless there is an order to the universe, how could one ending be good and another bad? Whether the real universe had a moral order or not, therefore, the story universe does.

So, if you want to write Beauty and the Beast (which is what your story is) you can write it because Beauty and the Beast is good story, whether or not it is good psychology. It is a story that has been written thousands of times, and it is a story that will be written thousands of time more.

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    Once again, you are ahead of me, with better info and more detail. I had in mind many of Wagner's Operas, in which the tenor is saved by the love of a woman. I do not mean the Ring operas! Anyway: The tenor is already a somewhat sensitive guy, who is aware of his shortcomings. Whether in opera or in print, or in real life, I cannot think of credible situations where bullies become sensitive. But I can think of situations where sensitive people have to act like bullies to survive, until they can get away. – user23046 May 7 '17 at 23:07

Even Klingons fall in love. The key is that their partners are every bit of a matching force and then some.

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