My theory was that it is very difficult, very difficult, and relatively rare, for people to change themselves. (And this has an implication for novelists, as you'll see.)
Of course people do change. We know that. Any individual changes a tiny bit each day, imperceptibly, adding up to large changes over decades. Sometimes, changes can be more sudden, especially during the growing up years. Various landmarks change us: leaving school/university, having children/not having children, close bereavement, major changes of circumstances. These bring changes to our personalities over the years, and changes to our habits.
But these changes tend to be a) gradual b) an adaptation to changed surroundings/ environment/ people around us and c) largely involuntary. They do not answer the question: CAN people change? In other words, can they change when they want to? Can we often change our behaviours when we see a negative consequence, or, indeed, a positive one? (I know that people sometimes can - change addictive behaviours, for example - but they generally need a great deal of help and intervention.)
The reason I was thinking about this was because I am hopelessly useless at changing bad behaviours. How many times have I looked at the bathroom scales and said that I was going to eat less, exercise more? (Twice today, anyway.) How many times have I made resolutions to drink more water and less wine; eat more fruit and less sugar; not buy ice-cream "just in case one of my daughters comes home unexpectedly"; do an hour's writing before answering emails; say no to speaking engagements; spend less time at my desk; enjoy weekends properly; be less of a workaholic; get less cross when people are stupid; not snap at my husband (no link there to the previous remark!); do more gardening and cooking (hobbies which I love and are good for me); get up from my desk every hour? Countless times, is how many. And I never change my habits. At all.
I am utterly beholden to my adult, middle-aged personality, which happens to be that of a driven workaholic, hopelessly Type A, unstoppably entrepreneurial, unable to say no to any exciting idea that pops into my head at four in the morning. I was different when I was fourteen and will probably be different when I'm 84. But there is no discernible change between how I am now at 50, how I was when I was 40 or 30. I have a whole different life, but my bad habits and behaviours I'd dearly like to alter remain stubbornly unaltered, even though I recognise completely that changing would be good for me and probably give me a longer life.
SO, writers and readers, why oh why oh why oh why do the characters in our books always have to change and develop? Even if the action takes place over two weeks, or two days. It seems to be one of the unbreakable rules of novels.
The Carnegie Medal even has criteria for characterisation, including:
Are the characters believable and convincing?
Are they well-rounded, and do they develop during the course of the book?
Do they act consistently in character throughout the book?You know, it rather bugs me that a character must develop during the course of what may be a very short timespan and must do so even if it is actually rather unlikely. (In other words, possibly unconvincing. Cf the first criterion above.) I know that the things that happen in books are mostly far more dramatic than those that happen in my life but is that enough of an explanation for the absolute insistence on development? Is it not very likely that a character might go through a hell of an experience, survive/overcome it and break open a bar of celebratory chocolate, declaring, "Well, thank goodness that's over! Now, can I have my old life back or just a new one without bad stuff happening? Thank you, and good night."
But no, the character must learn from his experience. Not just learn, but invariably change after it, noticeably. Grow, develop, change dramatically and be suitably well-prepared for whatever life throws at him next. Barely even scope for a sequel, now that the flaws are nicely smoothed and the problems solved.
Fiction or delusion?
I think we are all desperate to be able to change our bad habits or negative personality traits, and we need the hope that fiction offers to us that this will happen.
Writers and readers, your thoughts, pretty please.