The Character Crucible

Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul at
Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul at

In fiction, the main character or protagonist changes over the course of a story, and any number of events can begin this process. Maybe the hero starts at a new school or the heroine learns she was adopted. Maybe she finds a portal to a magical realm, or there’s always the possibility of an alien invasion or a zombie apocalypse to get the process started. Whatever form the event takes, it sends the protagonist on a journey, and by the time he or she reaches the end, that character will have changed in some way.

Some of these journeys are more intense than others. The protagonist has limited options, and the decisions made will have big consequences for the protagonist and for others. Love or hate The Hunger Games, it’s a great example of an intense journey. The odds of staying alive are not in her favor, and even if Katniss does manage to survive, will she be able to live with the choices she’s made?

In the same way a real crucible is used to melt impurities from ore, a character crucible strips away all pretenses to reveal the true character underneath. There’s no more hiding, and the character won’t be the same person they were at the beginning of the story, for better or worse.

Last week I touched on the difference between literature and fiction. The purpose of literature is to help us understand ourselves better, but fiction does the same thing for me. When I read these crucible stories, there’s a part of my mind asking, “What would I do in this situation? Would I make the same choice?” The story not only entertains me, but it makes me think too, and that’s a win-win in my book.

Related article: The Necessity of Fiction

©2013 Kim Vandel

2 thoughts on “The Character Crucible

  1. I love it when a character changes throughout the story and they’re forced to deal with the consequences of their decisions, be they good or bad. I really don’t like it when the “change” is used as an excuse to strip away all character flaws and leave behind a perfect angel behind though. No one’s perfect and I think great fiction reflects that with characters that have true flaws that can’t be rubbed away with a little polish.

    Great post! It was really interesting! 😀

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