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  1. adamant
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    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

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    A Series with a Dynamic Character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by adamant, Jul 16, 2008.

    I was wondering what the thoughts are in regards to maintaining the integrity of a character that changes. How should the author establish new obstacles for the protagonist that has fulfilled the challenges of the theme? At which point do changes become too drastic and deviate from the primary story?

    In my opinion, it would almost seem cheap to have something come along and destroy all that had been recently realized. One plausible method I thought of was slowing the character growth. However, I would like to find ways that address the "cold sequels" -- in order to avoid, say, a Star Wars prequel effect.
     
  2. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Adamant,

    I am not sure of your concern. Most main characters in a novel are dynamic. They change (grow or sometimes deterioriate) based on their struggles and experiences.

    There are static characters, those than do not change or learn--remain primarily the same in the way the respond to situations. That doesn't mean they have to be flat. They can be interesting, and have depth.

    That said, growth requires the author to tell different stories with the character(s). New challenges to overcome. Sometimes once a story is told and the character survives/succeeds or reaches an objective, that is it. There are no more stories to tell.

    Sorry if I am not being very helpful, but I may be missing the point.

    As an example, I guess if it were a character who develops super powers to overcome an equally powerful bad guy, once the enemy is vanquished, the hero character has the powers...what's next?

    Terry
     
  3. BillyxRansom
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    BillyxRansom Active Member

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    If your character overcomes the challenges of the theme, shouldn't that be the end of the story? Rhetorical question that hopes to address your point in some way.
     
  4. adamant
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    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes, it would be the end of that particular part of the character's story. I suppose the best way is to either draw out the process of growth, expand on the thematic subject, or focus on a static character. Can't say I've read any fiction where the protagonist is static, but I imagine it can be done.
     
  5. Adelaide
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    Adelaide Member

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    But that is precisely the point. Your protagonist can't be static---you would have no story. A character's dynamic nature in reaction to the conflict that he experiences is the crux of storytelling. Why would we read stories about people who end up exactly the same as they were in the beginning? We might as well skip reading altogether. At least your protagonist must be dynamic, if not several other of the characters.

    But the answer to your question is simple. If your character's story is done, and he has grown as much as the story allows, you can't drag it out any longer. But if you plan it out properly, you don't necessarily have to slow his growth as a character, but just time it so it lasts as long as your series. Plenty of authors have come up with obstacle after obstacle for their protagonist, while still keeping it fresh and not dragging anything out.

    If you are stuck, maybe put away whatever you're writing and look at it in a few weeks. Or, if you are just completely out of ideas, maybe it wasn't meant to be a series.

    Hope I've been of some help. Good luck! :)
     
  6. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I imagine the only thing one could do to keep a character dynamic without destroying all their previous progress is to expand on the theme. My character is dynamic and she changes, yet she always seems to be facing challenges that are similar to each other. (This is primarily because my stories are following a psychological theme which I won't go into here.) I *hope* they're coming across as variations on the same theme rather than the same thing over and over and over again, because that would make it seem like she's not learning or developing at all!

    There are so many variations on major themes that it seems like a character could face similar challenges that prompt them to grow, while not quite destroying the progress they've made so far, or looking like they're just stuck in place or aren't learning anything. For example the theme "coming of age" seems to have all sorts of variations, some of which don't seem to have much to do with each other. I know that in real life people can face the same challenges repeatedly while still learning from them; perhaps it's the exact form the challenge takes, or the intensity of it, that is different each time.

    Sorry I'm babbling, it's obviously an issue I'm concerned about too.
     
  7. adamant
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    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

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    Another aspect of this question: How much do you believe a character should change in the course of a story?
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don't really think there are any limits. Your character could remain completely untouched by everything happening around him (particularly in humor), or he could go from pariah to godhood.
     
  9. adamant
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    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

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    That question was mostly directed at Adelaide, and more of a "what's the minimum?" rather than an attempt to find a limit.

    As I thought more about static characters at the lead, mysteries such as Sherlock Holmes and series like James Bond came to mind. I believe the tale need not revolve around character growth in the sense of a coming of age story or a Scrooge transformation. The story arises from the individual methods the character develops to conqueror his or her problems. Audiences become attached to the character through other means, and that is the primary propellant through the plot, anyhow.

    However, I can't seem to think of any examples in which the protagonist grows then continues as a static character. As an author (or a linguistic artist when it comes time to write resumes), I imagine it can, has, is being, and/or will be done.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Actually, James Bond is a pretty decent example. In the first book, Casino Royale, his character develops. He blames himself for his vulnerability, and resolves to never again leave himself in that position. Through the rest of the series (except On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which kind of repeats the Casino Royale lesson), he is a fairly static character.

    I'm glad that the Casino Royale movie, and the upcoming Quantum of Solace, are treating him in a more human way as well, and allowing him to develop.
     
  11. adamant
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    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

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    So, Cog, would you believe that having a static character as the lead is inherently inferior to using a dynamic protagonist? Though I, too, feel that his differences are much welcomed. In fact, I was quite put off by the previous iterations.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I generally prefer dynamic lead characters. But I also see a place for a static character, one who remains unchanged while everything around him or her collapses or evolves. I think a static character who leaves a trail of chaos can be a fabulous comedic premise, like Mr Magoo, or other bull-in-a-china-shop characters. The indomitable hero, like the usual James Bond plot, also works well if the character endures unbelievable suffering but emerges intact.

    So I don't think main characters must be dynamic to be fully effective. I just happen to prefer characters who are changed as they create changes around them.
     
  13. Adelaide
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    I revise my statement. The example of Mr. Magoo disproves my point. I was thinking of one kind of story when I wrote my reply. And though I do enjoy stories like that of Mr. Magoo and James Bond, the ones I find most fascinating and compelling are those in which a character changes. And it can be as large as Frodo Baggins going from unknown hobbit to savior of the world or as small as some kid realizing Santa Claus doesn't exist.
     
  14. adamant
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    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

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    What makes a dynamic character so much more compelling?

    It seems as though the real interest comes from better understanding the person. Connecting to them on a deeper level than simply experiencing what they've done; a level on which the audience may even be able to predict their next move (or see the logical pattern in retrospect). The actual events of the story help to further complicate thought processes, create suspense, and ultimately keep readers from guessing correctly.

    Most authors highlight the psyche of the protagonist by having them identify desired changes in their life, allowing the reader to know what is there through learning what is not. I feel this is the main reason a foil character can be such a useful device.

    However, I'm starting to think it is not necessary to achieve the same relationship between the character and the audience. Moreover, I'm beginning to believe some of the changes should not be characterized as changes. James Bond, for instance, felt he should not allow himself to be vulnerable. Without recently having his trust broken, he would not have consciously thought to rebuild his (preexisting) defenses. However, he did not change.

    Altering his response without a genuine effort to do so on his part (or that of another figure in stories like A Christmas Carol) would mean he is out of character. Bond reacts in a way congruent with his history and current mental state; another reason there is any draw to a particular story, the idiosyncratic perspective.

    So while I do not feel there needs to be any changes to the protagonist's psychology, the plot does need to provoke the main character to "experience" his or her self. This allows us to do so simultaneously without feeling we're reading a character sheet, or an info-dump. Therefore, there will be a point when we no longer have any new areas to explore. But at that point, I feel the connection will be strong enough that readers will insistently return to both the character and story (e.g. Wolverine).
     
  15. Gone Wishing
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    I think a large part of it has to do with finding comfort in familiarity. Characters that are part of an ongoing series become beloved, and once firmly established, there is an uproar at times if even the slightest thing is changed. Thus writers and artists struggle to find a happy medium between keeping their ideas fresh to continue to appeal to subsequent generations, whilst maintaining the status quo with long time devotees. When that's no longer possible, new writers and artists are brought in, sometimes just changing things on a purely aesthetic level (costume change/update), other times leading the character in an entirely new direction.

    I think that a static character, after any considerable amount of time, will struggle to maintain interest and relevance - fans may drift in and out of their world on a constant basis, and obviously they will have hardcore fans that will always be interested and excited by everything... But just speaking for myself, I find it difficult to see how eventually the character would not become perfunctory - or the worst case scenario, a caricature of itself. I guess what I mean is I think it would be a challenge to keep the character from becoming stale, and while that may fulfil expectations, eventually it will seem like it has all been done before - no matter how different or original the story itself is.
     
  16. adamant
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    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

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    At some point, I imagine a character will become like the Simpson's, having done near everything possible. The key would lie in having a diverse cast that would allow the author to shift the perspective after a period, the ability to explore new environments, and making sure that the story related to current social issues.

    I'm not sure how much uproar there would be over a change when it remains true to the characters. Try to think of some examples of positive and negative reactions to changes.
     
  17. Gone Wishing
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    I actually think that The Simpsons is a perfect example of what I was talking about - Homer has become little more that perfunctory and most definitely a caricature of himself. It's still slightly amusing to tune in and see the dumb things he does...but it's "as usual". I grew up with The Simpsons, and loved them in their hey-day. but what I see now is the same jokes with different subject matter. The stories themselves are merely backdrops to the pop culture references and bear little relevance to the jokes that the writers seem almost desperate to make a point of - but that is just my opinion, of course. ;)

    There are countless examples of both positive and negative reactions to changes in iconic characters, ranging from comic book characters to movie and television characters (or both) - and I actually had a list of references, but garnered through conversations with others on this subject. I decided that it would not be prudent of me to pretend that I was any kind of authority on those particular characters (eg, Superman, Sherlock Holmes, Batman, Bond). As such, I will use an example of a character that I know a lot about, and even though the reference is more obscure, I'm thinking that the details will still be relevant.

    Wong Fei Hong.

    Wong Fei Hong is a real Chines hero. The details of his life are somewhat irrelevant, but he became quite famous and more films have been made about him than arguably any other character (real or not). The current total is well over 100, with the first one being made in the late 1940's.

    A great many of those films starred a man named Kwan Tak Hing. (99 officially, though he starred as Wong Fei Hong in cameos and other films that weren't directly associated with the ongoing series). Kwan Tak Hing's portrayal of Wong Fei Hong was straight down the line and steeped in tradition, remaining respectful of the real life Wong, if a little elaborate and exaggerated in the stories that were being told. He became so much associated with the role, that most would call him 'Wong Sifu' (Master Wong).

    Then, in 1978, a fresh young star by the name of Jackie Chan made a movie called Drunken Master. Jackie showed Wong Fei Hong in a drastically new light - that of a bratty, mischievous teen. It was a far cry from the mature and respectable portrayal cinema-goers were used to...and it broke box office records.

    Some were offended by this new take on the legend, most definitely, and thought it disrespectful to such an honoured legend to portray him as a drunken layabout, when previously he had been wisened and not prone to the kinds of shenanigans that Jackie's version had him get up to.

    Each incarnation has its place, though, and both are still very much beloved and iconic in their own right.

    Come 1991 and Tsui Hark yet again re-invented the legend with his masterpiece (yeah... I really love this movie :redface: ) Once Upon A Time in China. While it was somewhat of a throwback to the traditional Wong - mature, subdued and intense, Jet Li was still quite young back then (a lot of film critics thought that he was too young), and it left room for Tsui to play around with some of his youthful fallibility's, leaving it markedly different from previous incarnations. And again, a much loved version - if but by a new generation... (Old school aficionados will often prefer Jackies' version, and even older ones, Kwan Tak Hing's).

    I'm hoping that one example is enough of both positive and negative reactions, as I see now that I went on quite a bit longer than I expected...
     
  18. adamant
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    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, I never really liked the Simpson's much, though I've known some people that were almost obsessed with the show at some points -- including a teacher.

    I think comic books may be a better subject to explore this topic. They have a central character that is relatively unchanging in a single iteration; however, they can exist in different times and places, and generally have multiple writers throughout their histories.

    What character, in any medium, have you been attached to longest? At what point does it feel like everything is being rehashed? or a certain story arc dragged out for too long? I'm wondering if that is more a fault of the author than the character itself.

    I think it would be beneficial to find a protagonist that has been successful for a long time, and has had only one writer or a single team of writers. That would allow for an in-depth study.

    What did you discuss in that other conversation?
     
  19. Gone Wishing
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    I love Dream and Death of the Endless from Neil Gaiman's Sandman series - but that only ran for seven years, so not really a broad enough scope to delve into the subject at hand... When I was younger, I read Mandrake the Magician, but I tired of it relatively quickly. The only other comics I have read is The Maxx (awesome) and the very short lived Cold Angel, and Spartan X (based around Jackie Chan's Armour of God character).

    In my conversations (I talked about it with a couple of people) I primarily spoke about Superman - who, in my limited observations, seems to be one of the most static characters ever written. It's true that he retains a degree of popularity, but I don't think he has the same mass appeal as a character like Batman - particularly due to a lack of evolution, he doesn't seem to be as relevant to people as Batman. At the same time though, the lack of relatability plays a part, as Superman is completely infallible in real terms.

    Sherlock Holmes was brought up as an example of fans having a negative reaction to character changes - I'm told that Conan Doyle killed off the character after feelings of being trapped by him (Sherlock), but due to popular demand, the character was resurrected. According to my sources (lol) the character then became somewhat cold and detached, and it didn't sit well with many fans. Since I'm not familiar with the books, I couldn't pass any judgement on whether this was too far out of character and therefore not entirely in keeping with the question you were asking - it may well have been the authors' own feelings about the character manifesting itself vicariously...
     
  20. adamant
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    adamant Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've wanted to read Sandman, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns as well.

    Maybe the problem with a long-lasting character isn't the work itself, but rather the changing persons trying to relate to it. That would an advantage to items with multiple people and a rather large universe to discover (i.e. The X-Men).
     
  21. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This is also true of Ian Fleming's James Bond. Fleming killed off Bond at the end of From Russia with Love (kicked by Rosa Klebb with a poisoned blade), but brought him back miraculously for Dr. No.
     
  22. Gone Wishing
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    I can never recommend The Sandman highly enough, it is an awesome comic (though others have said it's too 'wordy' to count as a comic... :rolleyes:).

    Spiderman was another character briefly touched upon - Spiderman seems more susceptible to human weaknesses than Superman, so while they both have outside vices that temporarily alter their personalities (Spidey's venom suit, Superman's multi-coloured selection of Kryptonite), Spiderman can at least encompass a broader range of human emotion in his every day state, and is therefore more 'organic'. (I realise that may sound a tad redundant, Superman being an alien, after all).

    Beyond that, however, is where I get out of my depth and an expert needs to be called in... :)

    I never knew that, but I haven't been the biggest fan of Bond (even though I have seen pretty much all of the movies at least once). I remember a scene from one of Sean Connery's Bond films (I can't remember which one - I'm sure someone else can name it! :p) where he slaps a woman, and two seconds later they are kissing passionately - I'm fairly certain you won't see today's Bond doing that, so even a character as staid as Bond undergoes subtle changes in keeping with the 'trends' of modern society... :)
     
  23. Marcelo
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    Marcelo Contributing Member

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    If you've seen The Dark Knight (the Batman film), Harvey Dent is a good example of change and character deterriorate. Also Batman struggles with his emotions and with what everyone will think of him.
     

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