Google story grannies

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The push and pull of conflict in a transformational character arc

Hi! My name is Jodi. You can call me Granny Jo. I always thought I was the strange, kind of backwoods granny without a filter, sort of like Duck Dynasty does Granny Clampett, but I suspect I’m more of the geeky, weird granny who runs around in Crocs and writes on her arm with sharpies.

Recently, I got out of a workshop on advanced alternative GMC where I had the pleasure of talking to Janet again. Janet has a mind like a steel trap and calls me out anytime I weasel word something. Lucky for me, she had a question about Hague. I’m not sure if it means this particular section of the workshop needed to be reworked or if it was just a question and I’m over-thinking it. I’d asked if she could see the events between pt. A (the way a character starts out at the beginning of the transformational point) and pt. B (how they change)?

I can see some of them (the really big ones) but I'm not sure how much change the character needs to show in the first half of the story between the inciting incident and midpoint

Michael Haigh in his Identity to Essence lectures says the character shows a significant change at the midpoint stepping into his/her "essence" before one last reversion to identity, but it's the part up to the midpoint that I'm not sure how to plan.  He mentions the character glimpsing his/her essence early on before the midpoint but he didn't say any more than this.

True, he doesn’t say much more, but I’ve always had the feeling he kind of assumed there was going to be a push and pull of conflict as the character races toward the transformational point.

Kim’s arc is to let go of pain and open up to love again, a statement which really doesn’t spell out what needs to be in the story or how much of it there needs to be. However, you might say Kim’s essence (who she really is on the inside) is an open, loving woman with no pain, and she first glimpses that when she goes over for the first dinner. 

“Oh...” she thinks to herself, “this is what it would be like if life was different, if I could let go of my pain and accept love back into my life. It’s so warm and…I really want it.”

But she can’t, because she’s got a lot of trauma and guilt (her subconscious conflict) Her conscious conflict (she just doesn’t have time for a man in her life, especially not with the B&B getting ready to launch and staying true to her husband’s dream) tells her to push Jason away (in the process she’s also pushing away Tyra, a total win-win). Consciously, she’s just trying to stay on track, while subconsciously she’s afraid of pain, and suffering from “I can’t love this child, that’s a betrayal of Cleo’s memory. I killed Cleo. I let her down. I can’t let her down again.”

However, her essence (the open, loving woman without pain) is pulling at her, forcing her along the path that leads to Jason and Tyra. It’s her subconscious goal.

However, there’s a condition to the way Kim’s conflict works to show change in her arc. Her change needs to happen in feasible increments. She can take one step back and one step forward, or three steps forward and a gigantic step back, but the progression of her change has to work for the story and projected word count. Kim simply can’t go from “I’m hurting and messed up,” to “Aww…I luv you.” She has too much baggage.

The events you pick as the starting and change points of your character predetermine how much change needs to happen between the start of the arc and the final wrenching struggle where the character fights change (the black moment). Kim can’t be healed in a short story because people don’t easily toss years of painful baggage aside. She needs space to show the progression of her arc, which means the amount of change to show before the black moment depends on two things; the events you pick as the starting point and point of change, and word count.

Because I picked such a difficult arc, more change needs to happen in a way that’s believable for a reader. However, if I were to pick a shorter arc (maybe from the death of her husband due to natural causes until her realization love can happen twice) there’s less to show.

In this part of the story how aware will the character be that s/he is changing?  Will s/he realise at all (and maybe rationalise it away with an external reason for acting in a different way) or will it just be the reader who can see it and maybe the catalyst character?

The reader is usually aware of what’s going on because they can see into the character, feel her thoughts and hear her self-talk. In many stories, the point of change happens when the character becomes self-aware and starting acting on their subconscious goal. Kim has been trying to change ever since that first dinner with Jason and his kid, but until she realizes pain and self-hatred are standing in her way, she can’t release them and step into her essence.

If she realizes she’s changing, it probably happens in flashes of “I really want this” only to be rationalized away by “I must be tired and maudlin” or “I just don’t have time for this.”

I think the hero sees it on a certain level, although subconsciously. It’s the intangible that gives him the faith to keep going, even when Kim is fighting herself. So yes—in flashes for him too, complicated by his own internal conflict.

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