Sometimes, writers get the urge to do something radically different with a character. Perhaps a narrative arc requires it, or it could be as simple as wanting to inject new life into your story. When changing a character’s personality, do so in a manner fitting with the fictional world that you have already established. Consider drawing on the common events found in daily life to make a character’s shift in personality believable to your readers.
In both fiction and real life, the loss of a loved one brings about unforeseen changes. For children, whose personalities are not yet fully formed, the loss of a parent can, and often will, trigger profound changes. Older people may find their temperaments changing as they work their way through the stages of grief. Some never get to acceptance, and the resulting hurt and pain can turn some people’s personalities inside out. Keep in mind that individuals react to loss in different ways. Some become melancholy and brooding, but denial is also common. Thus, you may find a character turning into an extrovert in an attempt to deny their grief. Loss causes unpredictable reactions.
Injury is another event that may change a person. Even a fairly common car crash can cause personality and mood changes. A traumatic injury affects the body, but it may also affect the mind. Brain injuries are notorious for causing sudden and profound changes. Physical damage to one or more areas of the brain is but one cause. Even in the absence of physical trauma, side effects like depression are not unusual. Other changes may include self-absorption or a lack of impulse control.
A growing body of research suggests that on-going stress can have multiple effects on people, including personality changes. While we all have had an occasional stressful day, unrelenting stress affects moods and behavior. As with loss, sometimes attempts to come to grips with only the symptoms of stress can result in the underlying cause going unaddressed. Attempts to downplay irritability and depression may precipitate personality changes.
Some of these personality changes may seem undesirable because, in real life, they frequently are viewed as negative. Still, there is an upside; sudden personality changes may be jarring, but they are often just the signposts of a larger journey to a better place. When taking the long view of a character’s evolution, let personality changes chart a path of growth.
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