Flat character arcs

I said recently that in MARAG, neither Marag nor Sinowa has a real character arc, that neither of them changes much during the story, that they are both confident in who they are to begin with and they stay confident throughout the story. I said that the overall arc in the story is a combined arc of each protagonist developing confidence in the other person, not in themselves.

Given all that, this post here caught my eye: No, Your Characters DON’T Have To Change In Your Novel Or Screenplay. Here’s Why

Various examples in the linked post, but here’s one I hadn’t thought of that I liked:

The Change Agent: This is a character who changes all the other characters in the story just by being themselves. Example: Forrest Gump. Love or loathe this character, he doesn’t change. But he DOES change the outlook of everyone he comes into contact with in the movie.

That was an interesting movie, and that’s a fair point. We all know that iconic characters such as Superman or Sherlock Holmes don’t change. That’s the point of being iconic. But how about this other idea, that you can have a protagonist who pulls other characters into his orbit, so they change and the protagonist doesn’t?

Forrest Gump doesn’t change anyone because he’s powerful or influential; he’s operating on a very simple plain of existence compared to most of us. Being around him causes people to see things differently and see themselves differently. But you can imagine a protagonist who exerts powerful influence by, for example, deliberately refusing to change. Or through being masterminds and manipulative.

Who are some characters who stay the same while other characters move through the story around them, following much stronger character arcs because of the protagonist’s influence? Maybe Lymond in Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles. Maybe Kit in From All False Doctrine. Possibly … possibly Daniel in the Death’s Lady series? He changes a bit. Other people around him change more, but perhaps the only one who really changes a lot because of Daniel is Tenai.

Just a note that you can pick up all four books in the Death’s Lady series via my Patreon if you like. That series will become exclusive to Amazon in March or April.

Who are other protagonists like that — characters who are solidly themselves while everyone around them changes?

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7 thoughts on “Flat character arcs”

  1. I’m listening to Cryoburn right now. I think in the post-Memory books Miles has mostly completed his character arc and is the fun element of chaos LMB throws into a situation to stir everyone up. And everyone ends up becoming better versions of themselves.

  2. I thought of Miles too. In particular, I remember Ekaterin thinking that Miles remained friends with his former girlfriends and that they had all grown from their association with him.

    I also thought of a Jane Yolen middle grade book, Wizard’s Hall. The main character has an arc that is not so much changing, as discovering who he already is. And his talent is not the expected powerful enchanter, but an “enhancer” who brings out the magical skills of those around him.

  3. I think you’re both obviously right and I should have thought of that. Miles is a great example of someone who has a flattish character arc while practically everyone changes around him, because of him. Especially Mark. Now, Mark, wow, THERE is an intense character arc.

    This book by Yolen sounds pretty neat. I like the idea of a kid who turns out to be an enhancer rather than personally powerful.

  4. … Ryo?

    I remember that Yolen book, it’s one of the few that stuck with me. Although I do tend to confuse it with Zambreno’s duology that starts with A Plague of Sorcerors.

    The Teen has been reading history on Athanasius, sparked by Bradshaw’s Beacon. A real life example, by what I’ve been hearing. He knew what was true and stuck to it, against multiple emperors and exiles, and eventually everyone else came around. (or died)

    Lymond’s core stays the same, but I would say he has an arc of his own, that I will hastily summarize as “taking responsibility”. And when to stop so doing.

  5. Elaine, that’s a good summary of Lymond’s character arc! It might be a fun challenge to try summing up character arcs in ten words or less.

    Athanasius as shown in Beacon was an amazing person; I think he surely counts as a real-life example.

    Ryo … not sure. Though he does serve as a catalyst for enormous social change, though mostly that’s moving in pretty slow motion at this point.

  6. I think Geras has the flat character arc- he is well developed and secure in who he is. Lymomd grows!!! He falls in love!!! I was thinking of Sherlock Holmes, but I truthfully haven’t read many of the books (if any) so I am guessing there.

  7. Alison, okay, fine, good point about Lymond.

    And you’re right — Geras is not a protagonist, but he is definitely a steady presence who doesn’t change at all, for which we may all be grateful.

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