I recently read an interesting article about the decision making process of people suffering from addiction problems and how they are motivated to change. It’s not such a gloomy piece as you may think: it gave me a fabulous idea for a brand-new article. What I’ve done is taken those headings and descriptions and expanded on them, just for you. So, here we go!
The Six Stages of Change are:
maintenancetrials and failures – I’ve used artistic license to rename this! termination– a new person – ditto
This is the stage where your character is oblivious for any need to change. They may think they are perfectly happy in their ordinary world, or if they’re not, don’t see the issues as any major problem.
There’s four reasons to be in precontemplation, and they are “the Four Rs” —reluctance, rebellion, resignation and rationalization:
- Reluctant precontemplators – lack knowledge or inertia to consider change. The impact of the problem has not become fully conscious.
- Rebellious precontemplators – have a heavy investment in making their own decisions and are resistant to being told what to do.
- Resigned precontemplators – have given up hope about the possibility of change and seem overwhelmed by the problem. Many have made many attempts to change or gain control of their situation before
- Rationalizing precontemplators – have plenty of reasons why they don’t have a problem or why others have the problem and not them
Characters at this stage of change are willing to consider the possibility that all is not right in their world. However, they are highly ambivalent to changing. This stage is not a commitment for them, and many may be interested in seeking out scenarios to their ‘problem’. For example, a heroine unhappy with her career may check out study opportunities or read the employment section, or discuss her situation with a friend or colleague. But even with all the negatives, they still cannot make a decision to change.
They may also consider the pros and cons of their behavior, and the pros and cons of change. They may think about the previous attempts they have made to change, and what has caused failure in the past.
Determination (Commitment to Action )
This is also what I refer to as “the Call to Action”. Something happens that forces your character to want to change. Changing may not be their choice, but to do nothing would be more painful, uncomfortable or unacceptable than changing. Whatever forces your character to change is rooted in their back story – what do they want most out of life? What do they fear the most? What are they not willing to concede?
Whatever happens to change their minds, they are now fully commitment to doing something.
Action (Implementing the Plan)
Your character will put their an action plan into motion, whether it be a formal contract, a to-do list, a verbal agreement with another character, physical move or just a mental commitment to themselves. This may also require help and/or encouragement from others – a mentor, friends, relatives, work colleague. Even the memory of a person close to their heart may be the encouragement they need to get moving.
For those of you using the Three Act Structure, this is your turning point from Act 1 to 2 – the ‘opening of the door to a different world’.
Trials and failures ( learning from their mistakes and getting better)
Change requires building a new pattern of behaviour over time, and with that will come tests, challenges and obstacles for your character. Of course, in order for them to succeed and deserve their reward, they will have to fail and learn from those failures.
This is also where the character gets to the “I hate this/I can’t do this, I want to go back to the way things were.” stage. A very powerful pull indeed. But of course, things have changed so much (or they have changed!) that they cannot.
The experience of failing, then regrouping, then trying again, often strengthens a person’s determination to stay on the path they have chosen. They may get encouragement from others (a mentor, or an enemy who believes they will fail) and will think about why they originally chose this path, which in turn makes them stronger.
A new person
The original article referred to this stage as the sufferer ‘terminating’ their addiction need. Not so good when talking about the triumph of a character 😀
In romantic fiction, the ultimate goal in the change process is happiness for your character, whether it be a new job, gaining freedom, respect, finding the love of their life or simply being happy that they succeeded at an insurmountable task. The journey they took has had an impact on them, teaching them a valuable life lesson. They will be a different person with a new life outlook, have gained greater understanding or simply achieved peace within themselves.