There’s a big idea in genre fiction writing that at least one of the main characters must change. It’s got to be a big change, and it has to be irrevocable. No backsies. Ideally, one has died a death (physical or psychic), and the other has grown into a new, powerful character.
And, I love some stories that follow this pattern. One of my favorite books is Faking It, by Jennifer Crusie. The heroine, Tilda, goes from a reproduction artist to someone who displays and sells her own work. Her dead father goes from being a memory that confines and constricts his surviving family to being put in his place as a memory that guides their actions mostly by being a horrible warning. (The real antagonist is Davy, ((I think)) but to tell the truth, the only psychic death I see him dying is his identity as a playboy. He grows and changes, but I don’t see him fundamentally destroyed. Is this the big, mainplot character arc for most romantic story antagonists? Losing their womanizing or patronizing tendencies?)
But at this point in my life, one of my pet peeves is the story arc that begins with the little lost orphan, hated by everyone, deserted in the rain and mud and feeling so sorry for himself or herself. Sometimes the arc is magnificent, but I must confess that I often close the book if the miserable worm isn’t heading up the rainbow in the first three paragraphs.
Real life isn’t always a beautiful arc. And this could be one good reason why writers say, “Fiction has to be better than real life.” We are often messy backsliders who take one brave leap today, only to find that the cliff on the other side of the chasm is covered with ice.
Well, no. That’s fictional and overdramatic. It’s more likely that we save up a small nest egg, and get back-ended at a stop-sign by a driver with no insurance. The deductible eats up the nest egg, and we are back to our small, daily struggles again with no movement on the arc.
These posts from the By Heart series on The Atlantic Online inspired my musings on the arc that just refuses to develop. I think some spinning in circles by characters can add realism to the story. And I also think that as writers,
sometimes we just miss the arc that is there. It’s like how fish don’t see water, or people don’t feel air. It’s there, and sometimes it takes someone outside the system to see what’s really there. A subplot may be misidentified as the main plot by the first draft writer, for example. Or a grand arc may be developing sneakily under the disguise of a subplot.
Anyway, I’m spinning in circles myself, but I’m going to trust my girls and keep spinning until I get to the end of the first draft. When it’s all out there on paper, maybe I (or a beta reader) will see what’s there, and what’s not.
So, how’s your writing going today? Have your muses handed you sandwiches on a plate, or are you in a dark forest, poking under debris for mushrooms? Both are fine ways to get a meal. Let us give thanks for what we are about to receive . . . .