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Bob may have opinions, but he doesn't act on them if someone disagrees. Instead, he will follow their instructions or advice. This someone might be anyone, a single person that he is dependant on, or the prevailing attitudes in society. Then Bob starts to actually trust and act on his own judgment, and begins to go his own way. Bob earlier had no independent judgment in relation to some external factor, and this is the growth and expression of his own judgment: he's growing a spine.

This is a form of Character Development, and often a defining moment in a Rite of Passage. It's also a staple of a Coming of Age Story, where it does not necessarily mean that Bob has more resolve than earlier, but rather that he has learned to follow his own independent judgments. It might be lousy judgment, but at least he has started to develop and act on it.

As a trope, this can take two forms:

  1. A plot arc for a character. This is the long and slow variety.
  2. A single scene, where the character unambiguously chooses their own way in a plot-relevant fashion.

Grew a Spine is normally a big part of a Coming of Age Story, and can be assumed to be included as part of that. Please only include such examples if Grew a Spine is the major part of the Coming of Age Story.

Some starting points for Grew a Spine is Extreme Doormat or Shrinking Violet, but the character might just be inexperienced and unsure of themselves. After all, this is all part of growing up. May coincide with Took a Level In Badass or Sudden Principled Stand. Has nothing to do with the evolution of vertebrate animals.

Examples of Grew a Spine include:



  • Luke leaving Yoda's training in The Empire Strikes Back to save Han and Leia.
  • This is a big part of Raven's character development in X-Men: First Class.
  • Todd in Dead Poets Society goes from extremely shy and incapable of speaking up for himself to the first student to stand on his desk in support of Mr Keating when the latter is fired.
  • C.C. Baxter refuses to loan Sheldrake his apartment for affairs any more, even though it costs him his job in The Apartment.
  • Near the end of School of Rock, Ned the perpetual pushover is getting chewed out by his girlfriend for his spinelessness. Right when she asks if he's ever going to get around to standing up for himself, he interrupts her by heading off to the concert that she didn't want him to go to. Many of the kids also grow spines in a more gradual way, by learning to defy their overly strict parents.


  "She's Commodore Vorkosigan's prisoner. Sir."

    • Ekaterin in Komarr and A Civil Campaign, though it is probably better to say that she found and nurtured the spine, rather than grew it.
  • William de Worde Grew a Spine relative his father in The Truth. An example of the Coming of Age Story variant.
  • In Chronicles of the Kencyrath
    • Donkerri ordering the Caineron troops to their posts in the end-battle in Dark of the Moon, countermanding his grandfather's orders.
    • A plot arc for Torisen in his relation to Adric Lord Ardeth in the same book.
  • Ella Enchanted is a concrete-metaphor version of this, where the protagonist has been magically compelled to be a pushover.
  • In On Basilisk Station, the first Honor Harrington novel, Alistair McKeon has a strange variety. He proposes a moral course which is promptly discarded as wrong, but the very act of making an independent proposal against The Captain and arguing for it was a key in developing the dynamic between the characters.
  • This is the main character development arc for the protagonist of Doc Sidhe.
  • A minor plot point (and one of many) in The Wheel of Time. Nynaeve is infuriated that the Kin are helplessly deferential to the Aes Sedai despite being technically independent and in many ways more learned. She endeavours considerably to get them to collectively "grow some backbone" and stand up for themselves, and they gradually do... to her, which is not remotely what she intended.

Live-Action TV

  • In one episode of Head of the Class Jawarhalal (an Indian student) is suddenly well known for agreeing with everyone about everything. Then the class goes to see Mr. Moore's off-off-off-Broaday post-post-Modern production of Hamlet. Everybody hates it except Jawarhalal, who defends it to everyone. They're so caught up in trying to prove him wrong that until the end of the episode they never ask him why he likes it and don't notice that he's disagreeing with them, counter to his personality.



  • Tavros Nitram, from Homestuck, finally stands up to Vriska and actually goes to fight her when he learns she created Bec Noir. Too bad it gets him killed.

Western Animation

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