There’s no getting around it. No matter how good a plot you come up with for your story or novel, it’ll be dull, dull dull if you don’t wrap it around a character arc. Characters make the story. Without that tension – the character having to learn something.
Want to know what I mean? Check this out:
The cabin alarm blared. Another failure. Captain Fantastic wrestled with the control column. Already the rocket-liner was plunging uncontrollably towards the Sun, its motors dead, but he had to pull clear – had to – because…
- Well, he just had to. You know, he was going to die. Uh…boring. What’s at stake, besides this character who we know nothing about? Who cares?
- He had 1000 passengers on board and had to save them, no matter what. OK, better. But still, well, a bit of a yawn-fest.
- He had to redeem himself after his terrible failure 10 years earlier in similar circumstance. Much better (OK, this one is a cliché, but it really shows up what I‘m getting at).
- As (3), but he also has to save the 1000 passengers, some of whom we’ve already learned about as people and therefore worry about. This is best (and it’s pretty much exactly the story of every disaster movie ever made, especially Airport 75, or The Posiedon Adventure.)
Tension comes from the intersection between character and plot. Do we really care if Captain Fantastic lives or dies, if we know nothing about him. And even then – it’s not a question of having character background, there has to be a dynamic interaction between character arc and plot. We care more if we know he’s going to redeem himself. It works even better if he has to learn something – if he has a revelation that allows him to redeem himself.
Put a story together without that element, and all you’ll get is melodrama. Trust me.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015