Alright. I was going to put up a nice post about all the little goings-on recently, but that's going to have to wait now (even longer). Because right now I am FURIOUS.
Now, admittedly this heinous crime that has enraged me so was committed by a TV series, but the lessons to be learnt from it apply to books as well. So he other day I was catching up on TV shows, and in one of them a disturbing trend I have been noticing for some time came to a head. See, there's this character on it, right, who has in the recent instalments started to revert back to how they were earlier in the show. Which would be fine, especially since I did quite like them at those earlier points.... except that this has happened in contradiction to their character development in the time that has passed.
This is basic storytelling 101, you don't 180 a character arc. Because if you do, then it makes all the progression and development of that character arc pointless. In order for a story to work, in order for it to really move an audience, in order for it to be good, it has to have meaning. It has to have a purpose. And this is true for characters as well. In order for their part in a story to be memorable, in order for it to be entertaining or thrilling or good, their journey, their development has to have meaning. It has to have a purpose. And in order for it to have a purpose, to mean something, in order for it all to matter, it has to, well, mean something. It has to hold weight. And to do that, it has to stick. It has to carry. Because if you don't make it stick, if you end up erasing it, then the people watching or listening or reading are just going to start asking themselves questions like "What was the point of all that?" "Why does it matter?" and, worst of all, "Why do I care about these people?"
And if they start asking those, especially the last one, then sooner or later they're going to loose interest in the story and switch off from it.
The way to stop this from happening is not to have your characters go back. In terms of development, they have to keep moving forwards. They have to progress. You do not give them the same problems and narratives over and over again. That just gets boring. The character and the audience have both already been there, done that. Instead you develop them, you advance them forward and have them learn from their experiences, have them change and adapt, and then, when that arc, that part of their journey in the story is finished, you give them a new one. A new direction to go in, a new thing to learn, a new challenge to overcome, a new goal to achieve. That way the character advances and grows, just like people do outside the story.
Let's look at an example shall we? Let's say we have a character, a young dark haired lady who's clever and quick-witted and quite handy with a sword. We'll call her Victoria, and she can have a red bow to wear as well. It belonged to her sister, and she always carries it with her. Now when Victoria was just a child her entire family was horribly killed before her eyes when Faeries burnt down her house, and ever since then she has been on a relentless quest for vengeance by wiping the Fair Folk from the face of the world. So far so good. However, what Victoria doesn't know is that there are actually two separate factions of Faeries, the Unseelie, who are actively malevolent towards humans and were the ones responsible for destroying her home, and the Seelie, who are actually all right as long as you don't get on their bad sides, and really just want to peacefully coexist with humanity. Victoria then over the course of three or four best-selling young adult novels that make their humble blog-writing author fantastically rich undertakes an epic adventure that has twists and turns, a heartbreaking tale of woe and loss, action and suspense, maybe a pop-culture reference or two. A grand sweeping intricate narrative that takes Victoria all over Europe and eventually into a key role in the politics of the Seelie and Unseelie courts, and later full-blown conflict between them. By the end of all this, she has made peace with her past, gained new allies, made some new enemies, but most of all, has learnt that not all Faeries are bad, and come to accept the Seelie as not the villains she first made them out to be (the Unseelie are a different matter) and even maybe think of one or two of them as friends.
Now, when book 5 or 6 comes around (as it will, because my publisher forces me to), after all that time and character development, would you enjoy it if the next instalment suddenly opened with Victoria violently against ALL Faerie-kind again, and it wasn't a flashback/spell effect/similar justification? With her forgetting all of the things she learnt over the course of the last books? Hell no you probably wouldn't. You'd wonder what the point of the series was, and feel like it was a cop-out. And if it continued to have her going through all the same stuff she did in the last books all over again you'd probably get even more annoyed, and think the author had run out of ideas. Sure it might be fun for a bit to read about Vikky tearing into Faeries with cold iron again, but eventually you'd probably start to wonder why you don't just read the last books all over again. That's because her growth and development over the last 3 or 4 books hasn't stayed. She hasn't progressed. It's just the same story re-hashed again, which gets stale quickly.
Instead, the better thing to do would instead continue on with Victoria's story from where it left off, and have her carry the things she learnt with her, and face some new obstacles. Maybe now she has the resources and power of the Seelie court to play with, but now has to navigate their politics. Maybe the Seelie haven't quite forgiven her for when she killed a large number of their ilk back when she was targeting Faeries indiscriminately, and now she has to convince them to trust her. Maybe there's some other paranormal critters for her to get stuck into. Maybe she finds out that her sister was switched with a Changeling before the attack on her home, and is still alive, so she sets out to rescue her. The important thing is that this is a new part of her story, a new part of her character arc, and it's different. And above all else, that she keeps what she went through before. That now she always knows that Faeries aren't all evil, that some people can't be trusted and others can, and any other lessons gained. She remembers the characters she cared about that died, and she carries that loss. What happened before in the story sticks with her. That's how a character grows and develops.
It's the same with other stories. One of the big things that made Rowling's books work (I think) is that the characters in them didn't keep doing the same things over and over again. Alan Rickman wasn't permanently a massive git, he had a kind of sad backstory, and that carried over with him once everyone learnt that. The main characters faced new problems and learnt new things and that knowledge stuck with them, and that allowed them to grow with the readers. And would Lord of the Rings or Star Wars have been nearly as good if Legolas and Gimli had decided, right near the end of Return of the King, that really all their adventures together didn't count for squat and they still hated each other for being an Elf and a Dwarf, or if Darth Vader decided not to do what he did at the end of Return of the Jedi? I would argue not.
The moral of the story is don't suddenly reverse a character's development.
In other news the next librarything has been postponed. Instead of this Thursday, it will possibly be the one after instead. As a venerable lonely member of the Old Guard I know that this means that it will at long last be returning to the glory of it's rightful place as the third Thursday of the month, where it once reigned before being usurped by the Adult book thing. At least I think that was what took it's place. Anyway be sure to come fully prepared for epic battle as we fight to take back what was once ours. Also a gift of some sort, because it's December so it'll probably be about the Yuletide festivities, which will mean gift-exchanging.
And make sure to pester the administrator to take us all to see the latest Hobbit film. If we went to see New Moon we can see this one too damnit!
That will be all for now. I have to get started on the next book of the Victoria's Fury series. And possibly talk with studio executives about a film adaptation...
Ace Of Clubs
Hi Welcome to the blog of the Mangere Bridge Teen Book Club. We call ourselves Ace of Clubs. We meet once a month, normally on the third Thursday 4.30pm @ Mangere Bridge Library. We talk about books, hang out and have random fun. This blog will tell you what we have been up to, what is coming up and of course lots of stuff about books. All teens are welcome so if you are around come along and join us.