Friday, November 14, 2008

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary How Do Your Characters Grow?

“Make character growth your story's overarching theme.” -- Durant Imoden in his article, Character Arc, @
I wrote in an earlier post that I serve as the Contest Administrator for Flash Me Magazine. I also help with the initial reading of regular submissions, if needed. One thing I’ve noticed with many of the stories that don’t make it through the first round (of either the contest or the regular submissions) is the lack of a character arc. Some people say this arc equates to a change by the protagonist. Others argue there are many great characters who don’t change. Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive is one example I’ve seen mentioned. He doesn’t come to the realization that he’s guilty. Instead, as he learns more about his plight, his resolve strengthens/grows to prove his innocence. Yes, I hear some of you out there groaning that growth is a form of change. I agree, but I think growth is a better way to express what should occur to make that group of words into a story.

In a lot of the submissions I read, nothing happens. I hear you authors out there saying, "What do you mean, nothing happens? My guy almost gets hit by a car, or my main character watches as his wife dies of cancer, or a boy gets beat up on a playground, or…” Okay, but how does what happens affect the character? Equating the incident on the playground to some stories I’ve read, the boy takes the beating, gets up and leaves with his head down. That’s not growth, nor is it a story. There’s no character arc.

I mentioned an exercise I wrote using the senses in my last post. As I prepared for this entry, it dawned on me that another failure of that work is that it lacks a character arc. Gee, if I keep finding faults with it, I might be able to turn that exercise into a publishable story someday.

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