Characters and the Change Curve

Amy here. I had to take a mandatory class in Culture change at work. It covered a business theory on how we handle change and the stages we go through to adjust to massive changes. It’s called the Change Curve.  During that training I had an epiphany. Why couldn’t this “change curve” be integrated into the character development of my current work in progress?

I started taking notes.  How would my characters react to this or that? Are they reacting normally or normal enough that my readers identify with them?

change-curveWhat’s a change curve? Everyone goes through it: the highs and lows of dealing with change. Management classes teach it as a way of managing staff through large changes like out-sourcing or organizational changes.  It’s also known as the grief curve.

Change curve is nothing more than the human response to change. There are three stages: shock and denial; identity crisis, and acceptance.  Within each of these stages are specific reactions to specific change. The amount of time spent in the change curve depends on how major the change is.

So how does this help with character development? Think about how much change a character goes through; the ups and downs of moving from her identity at the beginning of the story to finding her essence at the end of the story. With each of these changes, large or small, she’ll experience the emotions and feelings of the change curve.

Stage 1: Shock and denial

Our character has just received her first change. Call it the call to action. Something is forcing the change.  At first she’ll deny having to move forward. This ties into the stage of not wanting to change.  There is a lack of information, a fear of moving forward or of looking stupid.  As your character moves through this time, she’ll feel more comfortable with the status quo. She doesn’t want the change.  Other things she might experience is avoidance. Life goes on as if the change hadn’t occurred.

You can see here is lots of fodder for internal conflict and character development.  Some of this might happen as part of backstory.

Stage 2: Identity Crisis or Anger and Depression

Your character has reluctantly accepted the call to action. Depending on the change, she ‘s not likely to move forward all positive and upbeat. Chances are she’s going to be pissed. She might look for a scapegoat or blame the change on something or someone. There will be suspicion, frustration, and skepticism.

As stage 2 bottoms out in the curve, apathy sets in as the change is accepted. While going through this, smaller changes or issues crop up and she might fixate on them. It’s a great time to throw more at her, distract her.  This would start to build into the black moment of the book.  This will be the lowest point.

Stage 3: Acceptance and IntegrationGriefCycle_600x293

Finally time for optimism. Our character shakes off the negativity and moves into a more optimistic phase.  She accepts the change and finds new opportunities.  She has survived and is anxious to move forward with the change.  Acceptance, hope and trust may be emotions she’s feeling.

The Change curve is shorter or longer depending on the degree of change.  A traumatic change can drive a whole novel. The little changes that take place as you move the plot forward can also use this curve for emotional impact.

Weaving these natural human reactions into your characters make them much more real and identifiable to readers.

For more information on the Change curve check out these sites:


7 thoughts on “Characters and the Change Curve

  1. Love love love that you can bring your passion (writing) and your work together like this. Great insights into human reactions over time. I’m bookmarking this for your. Thank you for writing this. Have you been able to incorporate any of these ideas into your WIPs yet? What a great challenge!

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