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Fiction Writing Tip: Character Reversal

January 14, 2014

Remember when I would blog more about writing? Well, I fulfill my promises. Character reversal happens in spades in The Bound Chronicles.

Character reversal is a poetic language term used to refer to when a story’s character undergoes a major change, so that by the end of the story, a predominant concept, paradigm, personality trait, and/or aspect of the character has “reversed” i.e. is different. It’s the equivalent of the character “learning something” by the end of the book, usually some sort of universalish human truth about existence. It can happen to main or secondary characters or even both.

Character reversal can be on a massive scale, spanning an entire book series (see example below), or something as small as a chapter or stanza. It happens as a result of a character’s emotional climax, and often occurs naturally over the course of most narratives.

Example time: in the beginning of The Hunger Games book series, Katniss doesn’t really do romantic love. The human, real life expression of romantic love is foreign to her, to some degree unwanted, and often confuses her. Peeta’s expressions of love are pinned as Games strategy in Katniss’s head. By Mockingjay, however, romantic love is what Katniss wants. When Peeta is retrieved from the Capitol, she looks forward to embracing him and is very upset when his condition becomes clear. The last lines of the book outline how much she needs him. Throughout the three books, her position on romantic love “reverses.”

Character reversal is common in shorter prose pieces, especially short stories, where sometimes the whole story reverses (ex: a story about death is really a story about life). But mostly it’s found in every prose story type and in some narrative poems too.

Checking a story for character reversal can be very fruitful. If your character has undergone a major emotional change, then perhaps its time for that book to end and the next book to start. If the character has reversed in all possible manners, making them almost unrecognizable to the person they were at the beginning, then maybe it’s time for the book series to end. The Inheritance Cycle is an excellent example of this, the struggling farm boy of Eragon completely alien to the wisdom weary Dragon Rider of Inheritance.

My personal problem with character reversal is going through it logically. I tend to skip to the (usually exciting) end and not explain all the steps a character goes through to learn. But I need to. Going thoroughly through each step in the characters’ process of learning allows the reader to fully relate and follow and care for the character. Otherwise, they’ll close the book with the dominant response of “wait, how did that happen again?” Unless you’re aiming for that reaction. Then it’s fine.

Because the reversal is not essential to all stories, however, or all characters. That could get confusing. Stories that don’t follow a traditional plot arc, have strict genre specifications, or are experimental often don’t contain reversals. If you write a story designed to keep your reader utterly confused and spending most of their energy figuring out the plot and/or world, a reversal might be overwhelming. But don’t forget character reversals exist and happy writing!

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From → Writing Tips

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