Sunday, April 17, 2016

Striving for a character arc

In fiction, the classic character arc has the protagonist struggling with a character flaw. The plot gives the character something they want, something that they can get only if they overcome their flaw. At the climax, of course, the character overcomes their flaw and we all go home happy.

But I've always felt drawn to stories with what might be called a circular arc: the character struggles with their flaw but is ultimately unsuccessful in changing themselves.  I believe that people do not change much and, when they do, the change is a slow process that rarely results from a single stimulus. This is backed up by research and I've wanted to express this in my writing.

These aren't popular endings, and, in fact, I'm often unsatisfied by this kind of a story. It comes down to being a cathartic exercise for the writer instead of creating a truly compelling story. But it still makes me uncomfortable to change an ending to make the story more likable.

Rather, it made me uncomfortable until I connected it to Lisa Cron's theory in Wired for Story. She says we evolved to like stories because they give us practice without having to have all the actual experiences. Could reading stories where the characters overcomes their flaw similarly be a way for us to practice overcoming our own?

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