Validation Vs. Transformation: A Journey of Growth
Why do we read?
There are probably a million different answers we could give, ranging from entertainment to escape to even growing our understanding of the world. But for most, our desire to read can boil down to one core desire: purpose. Meaning. Truth. A reason for us to spend several hours with characters, traveling with them, learning with them, and growing with them. Which brings us to the very essence of how we measure purpose itself: Growth.
Character growth is an essential component of any story, as it serves as the channel through which we can connect and immerse ourselves into a book on a deeper level, granting us an in-depth look into our own dreams and into the nature of change itself.
While there are many different styles of character growth and character arcs, today I want to focus on two of the most common arcs utilized in a hero’s story (for this post, we’ll be defining a hero as a protagonist who succeeds by the end of the book): Validation and Transformation.
Whichever style you choose all depends on what you want your characters to learn by the end of your story. For a Validation story-arc, the character should start off insecure or uncertain, usually about themselves or their choices, but by the end of the story they will discover confidence in their dreams and learn they were right all along. For Transformation, the character starts off with a distorted or incorrect viewpoint, but by the end of the story they will discover that they were wrong and actively begin to change.
There are pros and cons to both styles, and whichever style you choose to incorporate will all depend on what you’re aiming for.
Pros: Typically works great for a wish-fulfillment narrative. Great for stories of self-discovery and learning that you are exactly who you hoped you would be. Makes for a very pleasant and easy read, that often leaves the reader feeling validated and optimistic.
Cons: Will often be criticized for having no character growth (since for most, we measure growth in terms of change instead of confirmation). Change is commonly seen as the most acceptable expression of growth, and when a character discovers that they need to go through a major change in their own life before anything in the story can be resolved, this results in a very satisfying narrative. If you decide to go for a story arc of Validation, be prepared for criticism, however when a validated character arc is handled well, it can make for a very popular story.
Pros: Typically works great for a story with a moral or a strong central theme. Will often receive critical acclaim and praise for handling complex topics and providing a satisfying example of character growth.
Cons: Depending on the topic or the nature of the message or theme, Transformation can be polarizing to a reader looking for a casual book to enjoy. Because change itself is a difficult and very charged topic, you may run into critiques claiming that your message is offensive. The story can also run into criticism if the moment of change or revelation for your character is too predictable. However, a transformative narrative is always an excellent read, and it will give you the potential to create very believable, relatable characters that will resonate with your readers.
You can easily incorporate both Validation and Transformation character arcs into a single story if you wish, to get the best of both worlds too. Again, it all depends on the journey and the lesson you want your characters to learn by the end.
Do you prefer to read Validation or Transformation stories? And what are some examples you can think of that match these styles of character arcs?