Character change arcs are a mainstay of stories. All characters have a change arc be it positive, flat, or negative. Plotting those arcs is a significant part of my process. However, I never thought about reader change arcs.
Stories can teach readers and change their opinions about local and global issues, but I’m not talking about that type of change. What I’ve become aware of is leading a reader through a change regarding their opinion about a character in a story. Proficient writers may be aware of this. My recent reading experience brought it to my attention.
My enlightenment began with The Dangerous Gift (Wings of Fire Book 14) by Tui T. Sutherland. The point-of-view character is Snowfall, Queen of the IceWings. Snowfall is rude, cold, distrustful, and simply mean. I never liked her. When I heard she was the POV character for book 14, my reaction was why? Snowfall has a character change arc in the story that redeemed her in my eyes. She is now one of my favorite dragons. Sutherland had led me through my own change arc that had changed my opinion about Snowfall.
With Snowfall, the character’s change arc is what led me through my change arc. However, even for a character with a flat change arc, the reader can be led from disliking the character to loving the character. This was the event that led me to realize I was being changed by the writer’s words.
In the Menagerie series — The Menagerie, Dragon on Trial, and Krakens and Lies — by Tui T. Sutherland and Kari Sutherland, there is a secondary character, a griffin named Nira, who has six griffin cubs who have escaped from the menagerie. Nira is indifferent while her mate Riff worries manically and is losing feathers due to his distress. Her attitude triggered me and I immediately disliked her.
By the end of the series, I had learned the truth about Nira. She wasn’t indifferent. She had faith in her cubs and that they would be fine. She was simply enjoying the time off from parenting. Apparently, Riff didn’t contribute anywhere near enough to the work of parenting the cubs. Nira was exhausted. She was happy when all of her cubs were returned to her. And, the menagerie staff had a word with Riff. He began doing his part in parenting the cubs, which he quickly learned was hard work. Also, during the course of the series, Nira helped the menagerie staff in dealing with problems with a local, which also exposed more of Nira’s likeable personality. By the end of the trilogy, I loved Nira. Sutherland and Sutherland had led me through my own change arc that had changed my opinion about Nira.
Now, when I write a story, I’m thinking about the reader change arc I’m creating.
(It wasn’t until later that it occurred to me that Tui T. Sutherland was involved with both of these epiphany-generating stories.)