October 15, 2015

Arc me, baby...

...arc me all night long.

Characters behave characteristically. This, my friends, I have learned the hard way. I've had the concept beaten into my thick skull.

But I think I realized a problem with the philosophy recently. We watch shows, movies, plays, where the characters have arcs. That's the whole point of storytelling, yes? The characters move from one place to another (not only physically, but emotionally). "Where's the character arc?" I have heard that in enough classes to imagine an actual ark. There goes my character, sailing off on an ark...

Because I have a hard-on (or a soft spot) for definitions, I looked:


1. a part of the circumference of a circle or other curve.
2. a luminous electrical discharge between two electrodes or other points.
3. (in a novel, play, or movie) the development or resolution of the narrative or principle theme.

(Pause for a moment to appreciate the word "luminous," which I love.)

In real life—how many of us truly arc? I know multiple acquaintances who stay who they are and where they are. Unhappy in a job? Maybe. But more than happy to complain about it. Unhappy in a relationship? Sure, but thrilled to pour out sludge all over you during what's sardonically—ironically?— known as "happy" hour.

Here's the thing.

Arcing takes fucking work. That's why when we write, we're told advice like: Put your character in a tree. Throw rocks at him. If he falls, it's a tragedy. If he survives, it's a drama.

Or whatever metaphor your writing teacher shared with you.

We don't want to watch shows where the characters remain the same from day one to day end—where they're a solid flat line from start to finish. What a boring roller coaster that would be. No curves. No dips. We like to take the ride with them. We like the part where we see them change. And in good shows, we can be surprised by how they change.

I am trying to change.

I am doing my fucking best here to arc. I get why this is work. But in my case, I climbed the tree myself. I threw rocks at me. And I'm attempting not to fall before the curtain. My claws are dug in. I'm holding on with my teeth.

Maybe, though, maybe if you surround yourself by the flat-lining people, by the ones who are just fine with the status quo, maybe that's a problem. The ones who are satisfied complaining without making any positive attempts at persevering. Or even at becoming something different, something else, something better.

Characters are flawed. People are flawed. I have no issue with this. The scars make us who we are. I have been broken and put back together so many times, I've lost track. You can see my seams. You can trace your fingers along my jagged edges.

But I want to climb down the tree at some point. I want to have survived the rocks and be a better person. I want to look back and see a beautiful, fucked-up arc. Not a straight line in sight.



Miz Angell said...

I get the point is not to fall. But remember in your struggle that we are here to catch you, more on that when I'm not typing on my phone. Xo

Alison Tyler said...

Thank you so much. You always say the most beautiful things!

Cora Zane said...

I feel like that pretty often, like I'm clinging on for dear life and someone is throwing rocks: both at my writing and at my life in general. I'm terribly afraid of falling...aka, failing.

To help with that fear, I have a saying by John Borroughs framed above my desk, "Leap and the net will appear." If an arc isn't working, in real life or otherwise, it's perfectly okay to accept that and let go. There's a net waiting.

Since I know you like etsy, the poster I have is similar to this: https://www.etsy.com/listing/124276762/leap-and-the-net-will-appear-screen?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=Leap%20and%20the%20net%20will%20appear&ref=sr_gallery_11

♥ Cora