Tuesday, July 20, 2010

More on the Transformational Character Arc

There’s always been so much to write about arcs, I’m never sure what’s out there. I’ve been doing some research into transformational character arcs and like that U2 song; I can’t find what I’m looking for. The other day, someone brought up a hero that doesn’t change because of his “role” in the story, and I thought about it a long time before realizing that little niggling thought I’d had was actually back brain saying, “Yeah, he does change. Although not as much as the others.”

Which meant that not only were there static characters and characters moving through the arc upside down—there were also characters with a very short arc. Not a fully transformational character arc, and not the kind of squished arc you’d get in a short story, but a very short pt A to pt A-1, kind of arc. In other words, the character changes, but not a lot.

And yeah, this is going to be one of the few--hopefully rare--times I bring up my own stuff. I’d been cleaning out the structure of my current wip, looking for the arcs and found the heroine, but not the hero. I knew this was a highly complex, multi-layered guy with serious issues, so he obviously wasn’t static. There had to be an arc.

The trouble was—the arc had taken place in backstory. Not that he was a fully realized character living in his essence, like Hague would say—but just a guy on the backside of his arc with a very short way to go.

In other words, his transformation was at the ninety percentile when the story starts. And he’s still changing, although not as radically as the heroine. His purpose in the story is to anchor the heroine as she goes through her arc, because his belief that the boy—yeah, it’s a sweet, family-oriented story—needs to grieve in his own way, backed by what he's gone through in his own, earlier arc forces people to change around him which then lets him complete his own, much longer arc. From unfeeling and closed off to everyone but his sister, to being more open and emphatic.

And the visible bits are so short, it needs to be “shown” almost like a movie, through the heroine. But the thing is the heroine doesn’t know him well enough to know what’s going on, so it's all a function of subtext.

Subtext is what your character is really saying and doing in a scene. The stuff in-between? The invisible words and meanings. We all live in a world of non-verbal communication and subliminal clues. Body language. Facial cues.

People don’t usually come right out and say what they mean, and sometimes they’re repressing or simply out to mislead people. In other words? In a nearly completed character arc, subtext illuminates backstory and “shows” the resolution of the arc.


Jennifer Leeland said...

I have this problem too. One of my characters develops a TON!!! But it's all before the book opens. I have to show growth and....well...anyway, he's giving me MAJOR trouble.
*grumbles* stupid historical.

jodi said...

historical?? Am I missing something? I need to go hang out on your blog more. O.O

jodi said...

okay, went away, came back--damn it. Now you've got me going and I want to add a second part to this bit. Showing how to use the subtext :)