Change is Hard.
Changing others’ perceptions of you is hard. Sometimes impossibly hard. Characters should have this same problem. When a character grows over the course of a novel, or a series of novels, that character should also meet the ghosts of his past. Those ghost shouldn’t just come in the form of the repercussions of his previous actions, but in the reactions of his friends to who he is.
When a character grows over the course of a novel, he has the context of what he is thinking and the actions that change him; his friends, however, only have brief glimpses of what is happening. They see 10% of the glacier of his personality. If the point of the novel is a particular character’s growth, that should reach a point where the picture of who the character was and who he has become (or thinks he has become) are jarring to everyone involved.
A good example of this is Matt Cauthon from the Wheel of Time. He is a mischievous boy who loves trouble in the first book. By the later books he is a leader of men, a gambler, and a remarkable strategist. Still, his friends think of him as ‘same old Matt’. In some ways the first 18 years of knowing him is more important to his friends than the last few, even though the last few are the more important to defining the man he has become.
As so many things on my blog lately, this can come back to dissonance. The character’s friends reject dissonant information and accept consonant information. They hear Matt’s jokes and see his lopsided grin, but they don’t really examine how those have lessened and matured while he also provides real value in the form of his Band of the Red Hand. The women, especially, see this as affirming their belief in Matt’s carousing more than demonstrating his ability to lead men.
Based on some reader feedback, my main character in Wolf might change his opinion on another character too easily. He accepts some things about another character that is dissonant with his thoughts about her, and he just accepts those new facts. I may have to add in a few more layers of him thinking she’s a bit dense before she glaringly shows her intelligence and capability.
Of course if you’ve spent much of your life, as I have, being a sarcastic jerkwad, when you try to change, people still see many of your statements in that light. It doesn’t help, either, that as a natural part of growth and change one backslides. Those backslides from the point of view of the person growing are consonant information to those who are viewing from the outside. Any truth growth may not ever be recognized by those who seemingly know us best.