Monday, 25 May 2009

Characters Arcs Redux

John Rogers blogging on character arcs. Very nicely made points, although he still uses the hated term. But the difference between transformation character arcs and revelatory ones is an important one - although perhaps it's not taking it quite far enough for me.

When it comes to character change, I'm a firm believer that people don't fundamentally change. I think there are core parts of our personality that will always remain set and which will affect how we normally react to a given situation. Equally though, I don't believe that this means that reaction will always be the same.

Two people could be control freaks. One of them tries to take over the whole world, the other gets all the trains to run on time. Alternatively, the person who tries to take over the world might through experience come to realise what a bad idea that is and reapply that trait in order to make the trains run on time - which is after all a much more useful endeavour.

I believe people's actions are affected by personality, by circumstance and by experience. That's what I look for in characters. If their personality changes totally then I'm not going to believe it (unless they have major brain damage or a complete memory swap). If they manage to redirect that personality though then I think that's going to be much more true to life. And if they chart exactly the same course at the end of the story as the one that they were on in the beginning then really I don't have much of a problem with that either.

I don't expect to see someone do something that is not within their makeup from the start - circumstance followed by action should reveal character, not alter it.

Even Ebenezer Scrooge, one of the most obvious choices to illustrate a character arc, does not have a character-altering encounter with his three ghosts - if you look at who Scrooge used to be, as revealled by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the story seems to be about his return to that personality, not a creation of a new one. Scrooge makes different choices as a result of the events of the story, his character does not magically transform into something completely different.

I think most writers understand this and I'm probably pointing out the obvious - but as with all the 'rules' of writing, I think people can sometimes get the wrong end of the stick and assume that all characters must transform and that a transformation is a personality change rather than a shifting of perspective/purpose based within the parameters of the character's established persona.

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