Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Novelist Seal Kept Saying, "Arc! Arc!"

Cross-posted from the Scryptic Studios forums, in response to this column:

I think people do have what can be called character arcs, at least some of them. True, there are some people who go through their lives without learning anything or having much of importance happen to them, but there are also those who have experiences and are changed by them. And that's a pretty good definition of a story.*
In an old column, you mentioned how you talked for years about coming to New York and launching your writing career, but never did it. Then a friend said something like, "Any time you've ever wanted something, you've gotten it," and you started going for it right then and there. That was the start of a character arc, and a very old one: Young man goes out into the world to make his fortune, learns something along the way. You may still be going through that arc, but it's an arc.

In a way, life is God's serial fiction, a soap opera that gets a new installment every day (and has literally astronomical production costs).** The entirety of our lives isn't a story, or at least not a very interesting one, but the times in which we go through trials, or reinvent ourselves, or just have a very odd few weeks, are character arcs. As Calvin's dad used to say, they build character.

I'm in the midst of such an arc myself, like Chris in [i]Sopranos[/i], realizing that I'm at point A and need to be (or want to be) at point B. (Really, it's more like point C and point Q, but A & B sounds better.) It's not done yet, so I'm not sure where it's going, but getting there is half the fun, right?

*It is, of course, entirely possible to tell a story where someone goes through an experience and fails to be changed by it or learn anything, and construct it in such a way that the audience doesn't feel cheated. Indiana Jones doesn't really change from the opening of [i]Raiders of the Lost Ark [/i]to the ending, but we don't really care. For a more highbrow example, [i]Hamlet[/i]. Tom Stoppard notwithstanding, no one in that play learns a damn thing.

**Corollary of this: I decided several years ago that the statistical likelihood is that, at any given moment, someone somewhere on the planet Earth is having sex. Applying that to this, even if everyone isn't always going through an arc, odds are that somewhere, someone is, and God will always have something to watch instead of sitting on His couch and complaining about six billion channels and nothing on.

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