Two weeks ago I posted Noveling 101 and a very interesting conversation about character and conflict cropped up in the comments. The gist of the conversation boiled down to whether it is necessary for conflict to spur character growth. In my opinion, if you are writing character driven fiction, the answer is yes.
The conflict of the story is what forces the character to change and grow. It doesn’t matter if it is a coming of age story or an epic quest, the character should grow by the end of the book. (If they don’t, you are writing a different type of fiction.) If the character as they are in the beginning of the story could accomplish what they do in the end, nothing has changed. They have not grown as a person/character. This growth is forged under pressure and that pressure is the conflict of the story.
The comment was made that character is what gets one through adversity. Which is very true, but you still end up changed on the other side. Think of the defining moments of your life. The moments that make you who you are today. Those moments were likely during a point of conflict. In real life these moments are spread out over years, but in fiction they often have to happen within months or even days. That requires a lot of conflict.
When writing, it is helpful to know what your character wants, what is standing in their way, and how they must change to overcome that obstacle and reach their goal–or realize that their initial goal was small and reach an even higher one (depending on your story). Another way to put this is a character’s goal, motivation, and conflict forces them to progress through the story and grow. (Goal, Motivation, and Conflict–or GMC–is also the title of a wonderful writing book by Debra Dixon, which I highly recommend.)
So, challenge your characters. Put them under pressure. Force them to grow. Your character arc depends on it.
(Aside** Here’s a shout out to all of you who attended the magical words gatherings at ConCarolinas. You made my con so much fun! It was great seeing all of you. To those who couldn’t attend, I hope to see you at some other event. Magical Worders are just plain cool. I love hanging out with you. Okay, I’m done gushing now. ^_^)