Before we continue our discussion on character arcs, I have great news about Katy and Liz. They will be moving into their new apartment tomorrow! They are so thrilled that they will no longer be homeless. Right now I'm lining up people in their area who can provide cars to help them move. Liz's own ancient car isn't even working right now--it needs a new starter, which is about $250. Their donation funds have been drained by the long motel stay. We are hoping some additional funds will come available soon for the car. If you'd like to donate through Paypal, please use the email address of: hugheselizabeth (@) gmail (dot) com. Or send a check to: Elizabeth Hughes, PO Box 111525, Campbell, CA 95011. Visit Katy's blog here. Thanks to all of you who've been such a great support through your prayers, letters, emails and financial donations.
The local ABC news channel wants to do another follow-up story. This may happen Monday, showing Liz and Katy getting settled into their place. I'll keep you posted.
Character Arcs -- Part II
Thanks for the comments yesterday. Good discussion. Today, continuing from the original email that brought up the discussion of character arcs, are the first responses. I'll continue with more on Monday.Email #2. I think the best fiction includes character arcs--usually with a problem the character has that the story must help her come to grips with. The story forces a decision to stick with the old way and be destroyed or go with the new way despite the cost.
However, I think you can also have excellent fiction in which the main character does not change one whit. Consider Forrest Gump, Anne of Green Gables, Being There, Mary Poppins, and of course the story of Jesus Christ. In those stories, it's the stubborn peculiarity of the one who is out of step with everyone else that brings about the change in those around him or her.
Email #3. I think there is a character arc in both Fargo and The Fugitive, but it's just not the primary character. In Fargo it's the dweeby guy who hires his wife's kidnapping and spirals down and down (a reverse or negative arc). In The Fugitive it's Tommy Lee Jones's Gerrard. In Forrest Gump it's Julie; in Mary Poppins, the father. If the main character wasn't so centered and unchanging, the others wouldn't have changed. The thing that makes these stories work is the extraordinary situations the stable leads find themselves in.
Email #4. The most compelling thing to me about Marge Gunderson was that she did all of what she had to do when she was about 22 months pregnant. I kid you not, that one thing about her undoubtedly went a LONG way in creating an empathetic character that women wanted to see in action.
So. . . the fact that she had a perceivable "burden" or "weakness" and yet did her duty made for a compelling heroine.
As for the "arc" of change, she didn't. But there's also something compelling about a steady hand and the oak tree around which everything else dips and slides and moves. In a crazy world, that's a great character people want to spend time with.
Marge was also a great antithesis to the incredible evil that came into her world. To me, Fargo was a very black and white movie. The evil was evil and the good was good. Not a lot of need for growth there. We just needed to see the good woman win. And she did.
So, for simple-minded readers like me, I don't know that a true "story arc" is necessary. As long as your "flat-lined" character is believable and empathetic and put into a game they have to win. And then win.
When you come right down to it, I'm not sure Scarlett O'Hara grew much. She was still self-centered, thinking about tomorrow and running home to Tara, at the end of that book.
Email #5. I don't necessarily think that character arcs are always weakness to strength - I guess I approach them more as "growth" in some way. Not only in themselves, but in their relationship with those around them. The other thing I do a lot--and didn't realize until I started thinking about this--is show a character who is forced to change in some way because of something that has happened to him/her, or has no choice but to react to a challenging situation. I find it compelling to walk with a character through that kind of experience.
Email #6. I don't think of it as change from x to y so much as I do that the character learns a lesson. After going through the conflict and either meeting or failing to meet his goal, he learns something that either leads to an HEA ending or a SBW ending (sadder but wiser).
The father in Mary Poppins learns how to be a father (and I've always seen him as the protagonist.) Scarlett learns that she loves Rhett. Lars learns how to allow a real girl into his life.
That's the key for me.
Email #7. It seems to me that readers like to identify with characters who are struggling to overcome adverse circumstances, and my most popular heroine gives them a chance to do that. She doubts herself, can think three contradictory thoughts before breakfast every morning, but is gradually learning how to deal with her domestic problems while solving crimes in the community and worrying about going on a diet.
The heroine of my other series is a much stronger person but is also taking a journey through doubt to belief while trying to mother (but not smother) a couple of dysfunctional youngsters. She is not as popular with readers, though she does pretty well.
On the other hand, what about the famous fictional detectives such as Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, et al? They don't change, and the people around them don't change, either. They are the deus/dea ex machinas of mysteries, sorting out human problems from above. Perhaps they are so popular because they reinforce our belief in a God who distributes justice?
Is our more sceptical age a reason why we don't see such god-like figures in literature any more? The best of the new crime stories feature protagonists who are far from god-like.
Interesting, isn't it?
Read Part 3