A Dreamer Walking

No Arc?

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 14, 2011

Is it okay for the main character in your story to have no arc? An “arc” in storytelling is the change you as the audience member see the characters go through.  Whether it is learning to share, getting a lesson in responsibility, or understanding what it means to truly love, there needs to be some kind of journey or arc in your film that makes the movie experience worth while. The arc does not always need to be oriented toward a good result. An arc could be represented through showing the corruption of innocents in someone. It is sometimes even more thought provoking when you make the arc of a character point to evil. Usually the character that changes the most and goes on the greatest inner journey in any given story is the protagonist. He or she is usually the character the audience gets most attached to. However, not always is it the case that the protagonist of the story changes the most. There have been some great movies where the protagonist has had no real arc.

You do not need to have every character in your story change. Usually you need to have one or two characters that represent a solid foundation. In most stories there usually are characters who are already developed. These characters represent a solid belief in order to change the characters around them. Most villains in the movies don’t go through much development, their job is to test the protagonist of the story. A good example of this is the Joker in Batman Dark Knight. The Joker represents chaos. He has this foundational belief, if pushed enough everyone will drop all morals in order to survive. The Joker tests the protagonist Batman to the limit. Batman is forced to go through a change and understand who he is because of the solid belief the Joker holds.

There is usually a good character with no arc in stories. Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid is a good example. Other examples are Sam from Lord of the Rings, Izhak Stern from Schindler’s List, John Keating from Dead Poets Society, and almost every secondary character in the Disney Animation movies. I am not saying these are character who don’t feel emotion or go through trauma, but they all have foundational beliefs that usually end up changing the protagonist of the story. Usually the characters with no real arc are the characters we enjoy the most. It is comforting to know exactly who a character is from beginning to end without needing to worry about his or her arc. This is one of the reasons so many secondary characters in Disney movies are so endearing. They are confident in who they are and they only have two jobs, guide the protagonist in their journey and entertain the audience. It is always risky for a storyteller to have a quality that the audience likes in a character be taken away from the character in order to create an arc. Many people would say for example they liked Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story franchise more when he was under the delusion of being space ranger then when he actually realized he was a toy. This is one of the reasons why the toys in Toy Story 2 run into another delusional buzz, and why Buzz is changed back into a delusional Buzz in Toy Story 3.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post not all stories have the protagonist change. There are some movies where we see no real arc in the main character. It is alright to have these types of protagonists as long as they are able to create an arc for the characters around them. Two great movies that represent main characters with very little inner arc are Forrest Gump and Wall-E. I find it interesting that these two films both have the main character represented through the title. It might be because the characters are so well liked. Both Forrest Gump and Wall-E are characters audiences through out the world have come to love. Both represent a very innocent point of view on life and both characters connect immediately with the audience. They represent perspectives and hold beliefs that are already developed and can’t help but change the characters around them. Forrest for example brings about a change in almost all the characters he interacts with. His story concentrates on two character changes in particular; One with Forrest’s love interest, Jenny, and and the second with his lieutenant, Dan. Dan is saved from dying in battle by Forrest, the only problem is Dan loses his legs and is angry at Forrest because he wanted to die. Dan is ashamed of how people look at him but eventually finds strength in Forrest’s consistent love for life. Jenny is an emotional train wreck and feels she is unworthy of love, yet Forrest’s love for Jenny is strong and consistent all the way through the film, and at the end his love wins Jenny over and brings her clarity.

Characters should be created to tell a good story. They shouldn’t be created to flesh out your world or because you just find them interesting. They need to drive the arc of your story. You shouldn’t worry about making all the characters change. It is usually good to concentrate on the arc of just a few characters. Better to have the audience really buy into one character arc then be half sold on several. A story like A Christmas Carol is just about one man changing, all the other characters have no arc. Yet, this does not make the other characters the main character Scrooge encounters less enduring. We like the secondary characters, like the ghosts Scrooge runs into, because we can see the change they are making in Scrooge. Wall-E is one of those characters we ended up liking all the more because he had this solid belief in love and life all the way through the movie. I personally liked him because he helped give me joy and change my perspective. All the way through the story Wall-E’s only goal is to find love. Because of his unwavering dedication he finds love at the end and brings joy to all of us.

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