How to swing on your characters’ arcs

I can’t remember where I learned it. Oh wait, I can (great opening, Ems, you really planned that one well). It was while I was collaborating on my quirky, supernatural noir thriller about a man who has to conquer his literal demons to get out of the subconscious world  he’s trapped in. I met this mysterious girl called Lindsey who wanted to collaborate on something fantastic – by which I mean she just generally wanted to do fantasy. I brought the amazing story – of course. So we met in a bar, before lunch, and sat all day drinking lovely drinks and building characters and plot. It was my first time sharing the writing life with another artiste and I loved it.  She taught me this thing that I’m about to tell you, if I can stop getting sidetracked by incidental interesting things. 

Ooh, squirrel!

It was while we were creating the main character’s arc. She told me about how characters don’t instantly solve their problems when they learn their lesson. They swing back and forth between their familiar state and the perfect extreme as they try to incorporate this new information, and cause more trouble for themselves in the process. Each time they get a little bit closer to center but don’t reach it until the end of the story. 

For example, let’s say a character is a total narcissist. In his story he encounters a problem, something that forces him to care about others. He’s shocked and has no experience at this. He swings too hard from extreme narcassist to trying to be extremely kind, hoping a quick fix will occur and he can go back to his normal life. He immediately tries to help someone and overdoes it, harming them in the process. He realises what he has done is wrong, and moves back towards the familiarity of narcissism,  but not as far as he was, because he has learned there is another way to live. He can never be how he was again. His problems don’t go away though. He’s forced to try again to be considerate and again he makes a balls up of it, trying too hard and so on and so forth – until the end of the story when he realises extremes aren’t the answer and learns to incorporate his new skill/knowledge into his former self and live in balance with it. He has grown. 

This is a great basis for a character arc, just try applying it to any MC in a story. You’ll be surprised, it’s even present in existing stories. We also see evidence of it in real life. I was having a chat with a fellow Twit (someone who uses Twitter) about this post: Here. In it, someone posted a picture of two girl characters and said that they’re girlfriends, of course, to which I replied that we can’t seem to have two girls just hang out and be friends anymore. They always have to be lovers. This is a swing in the opposite direction after years of LGBT oppression. After so long of being kept in the dark, so to speak, now it’s relatively ok to be out and proud, and with the PC crowd making sure that everyone is free to do so, it seems that we are awash with LGBT characters now. It’s getting kinda silly. We’ve gone from too under-represented to over-represented – in the indie scene anyway. Mainstream media has a way to go. Hard as it is to believe, eventually everyone will be sick of over-representation and it’ll swing back the other way. 

The problem is it gets frustrating in real life; you’re waiting for many people to have a change in understanding, the whole of society in fact, and some of those people are dumber than a toad and as ignorant as a Trump. One of them is Trump. So it gets annoying waiting for the change to happen. I don’t need much prompting to understand a message. I got it ages ago that LGBT people are people too. So the world will churn out a high number of LGBT characters for years to come. Slowly more people will swing around to acceptance. I’m already there, baby. I live in Acceptance town, in Acceptance Avenue in a big ole house called Acceptance with a dog called Acceptance and I have sex with a very sexy human lover called Acceptance every night and have his babies. So, the problem here is, people don’t like be talked down to and when we get hit someone over the head with the same message again and again long after we have got it, we get a bit annoyed. It works great for stories because it is only the main character who swings back and forth. Perfect entertainment. 

Let me just clarify that I’m in no way against LGBT having LGBT characters or against anyone else who belongs to that group – I’m a letter B myself – and I’m not against equal representation. What I am saying is we need true balance and until we do some people are always going to be upset. We don’t want a constant shift of dominance by either party. Though I understand it is a process and will take time, more time than I have to live unfortunately. I just point this out because people are so jumpy nowadays. 

It’s not going to stop me letting people enjoy their freedom. God knows they deserve it, or maybe he doesn’t because he’s a bit of a git really isn’t it? It’s pretty much his fault they were oppressed to begin with. Git. 

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