Forty two doctors agree: writers should develop the characters within their novels. Ok. This is a given. But for anyone riding the fence (which is an uncomfortable position, btw), here's my take on it. Please understand that my opinions have been filtered through the many glorious readings I've journeyed on, as well as authors like Blake Snyder, Joseph Campbell, even Orson Scott Card, and I can no longer correctly attribute ideas to specific peoples and times.
Characters should grow. Sizzle. Pop. The conflicts along the way should provide opportunities for the character to try and fail, try and fail, try and fail again. But each failure brings a slightly new understanding or a nuance of shading or a moment in time for the character to reassess her progress or regression. And by the end of the novel, the final scene is ultimately inevitable if the author has layered the scenes correctly. (Notice I didn't say predictable, because that is an entirely different matter altogether.) Whether or not your final scene is victory or failure, yummy or bittersweet, is not the issue -- that's your prerogative as author.
But the first snapshot of your heroine and the final snapshot must be significantly different. There must be some kind of growth or change or metamorphosis, or your entire novel has accomplished nothing. It will leave your readers feeling empty, much like that dry rice cake leaves you mere moments after you embark on your annual Holiday Damage Control. A favorite poster child for character development is Rudyard Kipling's Captain's Courageous. The first and final pictures of Harvey Cheyne Jr., vivid and memorable, are burned into my brain for all time. And when I mouth the title of your book, similar images should quiver to the top of my memories.
Confession: I don't really like the character I've created in Lauren. I intellectually understand that if she is to develop and mature and grow into the kick-butt heroine that I like at the end of the book, the beginning picture of Lauren must be the "before" picture, however unattractive that picture may be. And because I hate angsty, I have been pretty conservative about making her "before" picture too unattractive. But darn it, I don't like her!
And if I don't like her, who else will?
And if I don't like her, will I finish her story?
And if I don't like her, can I just kill her off?
But I'm brought back to Kipling's genius. Harvey is a spoiled brat kid who makes you grit your teeth -- the kind you want to backhand into next week and then taunt with the Tylenol bottle. Yet, Kipling finished the book. Readers persevered and were rewarded with the final picture, a selfless, compassionate Harvey, who understands the true definition of manhood. Decades later, an unknown blogger references the literary genius of writer and book...and tries to kickstart her own determination to return to WIP. With grace. Dignity. Determination.
Oh, Heaven help me.