Does EVERY Character Need an Arc?

You already know I’m a geek from my posts about Star Trek, so it should come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I cut my reading teeth on science-fiction and fantasy. I discovered The Hobbit in fifth grade, and tried to give a book report on the entire trilogy to my sixth grade class. When I got older, “Have you read the Lord of the Rings?” was a qualifying question for my dates. (Brian said, “Yes. Seven times.” So I married him.)

I was very happy with how Peter Jackson adapted the books to the screen. It’s a monumental task to pick and choose what to use to convey the feel of a book on film. I didn’t mind that he cut out Tom Bombadil. I understood when he spent way too much time on the battle at Helms Deep. I put up with the ridiculously large wargs and oliphants. But when he messed with Faramir, he crossed the line.

I understand he had someone on his writing staff who said that all important characters need to show growth and change. The idea that even secondary characters need their own arcs is not new. It’s even a good one–sometimes. But you need to understand how the character fits into the whole, and what role he plays. Before you go about changing the third best selling novel ever written, that a professor of English Language and Literature took a dozen to craft, you had better know what you are about. In this case, Jackson’s lackey did not.

In the book, Faramir’s strength of character in resisting temptation is intended to be a counterpoint to his brother, Boromir’s, weakness. Less favored by their father, Faramir nevertheless showed he had the quiet determination to make the hard choices, and to do what needs to be done without needing the approval of others.  Jackson’s alterations in the movie undercut that, and turned Faramir into just another man weakened by the desire for power.

In my opinion, the movie would have been better served by cutting the battle at Osgiliath, and developing the romance between Faramir and Eowyn a little more, showing how Faramir’s love healed her of the darkness Grima Wormtongue had planted in her heart. (It was in the book, and I am a romance writer. ;-))

That’s why I think a character doesn’t always have to change to be an effective force in a story.  What do you think?


Filed under writing

2 responses to “Does EVERY Character Need an Arc?

  1. What do I think? I think that you’re a terribly clever woman to have had such a brilliant qualifying question to test your potential dates. What a great way to sort out the ruffians right from the start! And yes, I’ve read The Lord of the Rings and loved it so much I asked my father to read out loud to us one cold Michigan winter (and he did!) so I hope that qualifies me to remain on your friends list.

    I don’t believe that characters always need to go through an entire arc of changes in a story. I shy away from absolutes because, although writing can be considered a craft, it is also an art. The word ‘arc’ implies a major change to my mind. What if a character undergoes a tiny shift in perspective? Sometimes that could be just as powerful.

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