Symmetry matters more to writers of fiction than readers consciously perceive.
— David Lodge
Next time you’re reading (or writing) something, you might think of character change in the form of a mirror.
- Change is the root of all drama.
- Some characters have a deficiency of knowledge rather than a ‘flaw’ or a ‘moral shortcoming’. This is particularly true of child characters, whose main ‘flaw’ is being young and inexperienced. It is also true of a character such as Inspector Morse who knows nothing of a killer at the beginning of his journey but everything by the end. Child characters are quite similar to genre fiction characters.
- At the midpoint protagonists start to really understand the nature of forces against them. This is when the identities of baddies are revealed, usually, if they’ve been hidden at the beginning.
- At the midpoint the protagonist holds the solution to the mission in their hands. If it’s a detective film, this information changes the story completely. If it’s a thriller the midpoint marks the end of the ‘outward’ journey to achieve the goal and marks the beginning of the journey back.
- The midpoint of each story is the moment when each protagonist embraces for the first time the quality they will need to become complete and finish their story. It’s when they discover a truth about themselves. In an archetypal (three dimensional/memorable) story, that truth will be an embodiment of everything that’s the direct opposite of the person they were. The protagonist will embrace that truth and attempt to assimilate and understand it in the second half of the tale. The character learns what they themselves are capable of.
- In what John Yorke calls a ‘two dimensional story’ (that would include ongoing series such as Courage the Cowardly Dog or Seinfeld), the main character learns the truth about the adversary.
- All stories at some level are about a search for the truth of the subject they are exploring. Just as the act of perception involves seeking out the ‘truth’ of the thing perceived, so storytelling mimics that process. The ‘truth’ of the story, then, lies at the midpoint. The protagonist’s action at this point will be to overcome that obstacle, assimilate that truth and begin the journey back — the journey to understand the implications of what that ‘truth’ really means.
If the main character in a story doesn’t change, there’s no story.