Story Stuff: G Is For Growth

Welcome to day . . . *sings alphabet in head while counting* . . . seven of our A-Z series. Today is all about growth, specifically in characters, otherwise known as the arc.

G

Simply put, a character’s growth arc is how he changes from the beginning to the end of the story. This post outlines how that can occur, though it’s written in a concrete way and could box writers in (the MC doesn’t necessarily need to start the story with a wound they are comfortable with, for example. They could be dealing with something they aren’t comfortable with – or maybe life was pretty damn good before the inciting incident threw everything into the fan). The point is the character can’t reach the end of the story and be exactly the same as he was in the beginning.

Since the protag (and other characters to a lesser degree) must have an arc for the story to be good, I could pick a number of stories to illustrate the concept. In The King’s Speech, King George developed the confidence to talk to an entire country. In Avatar, Jake learns the value of other cultures. In Doctor Strange, Dr. Strange discovers there’s more significance to his life than his profession.

50 first dates

Credit: imdb.com

But for a more extensive look at arcs, let’s look at the deep and meaningful Adam Sandler masterpiece, 50 First Dates.

(I know that sounded sarcastic but I actually love this movie.)

The story begins with womanizing Henry Roth proudly serving as Hawaii’s “last bang” for lady tourists. He shows them a good time and doesn’t get tied down because their planes leave the next day. He’s happy with this arrangement until he meets Lucy, a charming local who quickly captures his attention. The problem is Lucy has a brain injury that makes her lose her memories from the day while she sleeps. She wakes up thinking it’s the day of her accident that resulted in the injury.

That means if Henry wants to be close to Lucy, he has to make her fall for him every single day, because she forgets him every night.

That takes commitment and a decision to completely abandon his old life.

And Henry isn’t the only one who changes from beginning to end. His devotion to Lucy changes those around him, including her dad, brother, and even the wait staff at Lucy’s favorite restaurant. I think this is what makes it one of those movies I can watch repeatedly.

We read and watch stories to see how characters adapt and change, for better or worse. We don’t get through our own lives without learning a thing or two, and since fiction is a reflection of life (in more dramatic fashion), our characters should as well.

What are some of the most meaningful growth arcs you’ve seen? 

15 thoughts on “Story Stuff: G Is For Growth

  1. Pingback: Blogging From A to Z Challenge – Theme Reveal! | Allison Maruska

  2. 50 first dates is the only Adam Sandler movie I like. And it makes me cry at the end every time. It’s not just that Henry turns into a decent monogamous guy. It’s that Lucy changes as well. She does make new memories(the painting). And she gets a chance to live a life, not just the same day over and over.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There’s a lot of fuss about arcs. Simply put, circumstances, struggles, and adversities change a person. People learn new things and grow over time (or, at least, we hope they do). If you have a story where the protag goes through things, you’re bound to have growth and change, practically naturally, assuming your protag takes on the qualities of a living, breathing person. That’s my two cents on arcs. Most people have heard that things in life don’t make sense, but in fiction they have to. In fiction, we focus the story to keep things relevant. We take out random, extraneous events that are boring or don’t have anything to do with our selected plot (and subplots). Thus, we focus the protag’s growth and change as well.

    Great post, Allison. Thanks for adding the links.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m not sure about arcs.

    I don’t like preachy movies. I never liked watching the cartoons that had a lesson at the end. I wanted to be entertained and that’s ALL I wanted.

    Arcs that are overstated, that tend to drive the message too much, are obnoxious. They usually forget the cardinal rule of assuming the reader is smart.

    But…

    If I were being honest…

    I guess in my stories, I do tend to have people learn stuff. To evolve, as it were – but hopefully in an understated manner. Because my reader is smart, and I sure as heck am.

    In my blog posts, but more often in my comments to other people’s blog posts, I’m less surreptitious. I like to do the one mention of a point, followed quickly by a second mention of it, and then the eventual third mention comes as the capper at the end, after a wandering walk in the seemingly unrelated woods. Readers like it, and I like the symmetry that makes it appear I intended to do it from the outset.

    I’m not saying I did; I’m not saying I didn’t.

    I think you nailed it once – nailed me, I guess – when you said one particular sample of my sentence structure (one that was typically “me”) was as if I had posed a question, figured it out, and stated my conclusion.

    That was really cool to have read that, but I wonder if that’s what do all the time anyway, starting a story or a post and meandering along until I figure things out.

    That… may be my arc.

    And my symmetry in a comment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice symmetry. 🙂

      Your comment got me wondering if it’s possible to have a story without an arc. They don’t have to be preachy to be there. You had a lot of characters in The Navigators and I couldn’t think of one that didn’t change from beginning to end.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maybe that was the one you said you liked the character arcs in. I don’t think so, though.

        I’m sure you can have a story where the characters don’t arc. The story will. Maybe that’s enough.

        For example, in Savvy Stories there was no character arc.

        Well, that’s not true…

        The dad has a major arc (going from being afraid he will screw up with a baby to absolutely deciding it’s the best thing in his life), but he has it quickly and then it deepens.

        In The Navigators, the characters basically grow up.

        In An Angel On Her Shoulder the characters learn the world is different from what they thought: it’s worse, but it’s better, too.

        In The Water Castle, young Gina decides there’s more to romance than she knew, and she isn’t ready for it; that her “jerk” mom is probably a borderline saint. Her dad was to nice for his own good. Other characters learn stuff, too. Her mom decides to open her heart to try love again.

        Hmm…

        Maybe all stories have arcs.

        But I don’t think they have to!

        Liked by 1 person

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