Character Arcs and Reader Expectations

Lately I have been wondering about characterization. What is it actually? If an author makes a point of drawing a heroine as self-sufficient and independent but in the middle of the book, she turns needy and clingy, is that a problem with characterization or is the author putting in a touch of realism?

I know an individual’s confidence and self-assurance can vary from situation to situation but I have discovered if an author writes some aspect of a character’s personality down, if I read it, then I expect that character for the most part to act in that manner. Rightly or wrongly, if an author draws a character in the beginning one way, then while they may grow as people, I don’t expect them to regress for no good reason. When I say this, I am not talking about situational reactions. I can easily give an author a lot of leeway if I understand why a character is acting a certain way. For instance, Deborah Smith’s heroine Cathryn Deen from The Crossroads Cafe goes from gorgeous, self-assured, and privileged to isolated, solitary, and desolate after a horrific car crash destroys her movie star looks. Instead of people looking at her in awe they turn away in horror. Her personality and her feelings about herself make a dramatic change, but it’s one that makes sense under the circumstances.
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