One of the cute in-jokes in the movie Meet Joe Black is about the certainty of death and taxes. Brad Pitt plays Death inhabiting a body he has borrowed in order to see the world as a human. Someone tells him nothing in life is certain except death and taxes. “Death and taxes?” he responds, “what an odd pairing.”
We could safely insert ‘change’ into that phrase about what is certain in life. It seems to be a constant, sometimes painful aspect of the human condition. We are often either dealing with change that happens to us or which we make happen, or we are chasing change that seems forever out of reach. I had always assumed I loved change. Over the last ten years I have weathered a fairly extreme amount of it, and am on the cusp of more as I write this. I can truthfully say that change has led to personal growth, but I can also say with equal certainty that sometimes, being offered the alternative of comfortable and shallow would have been preferable. Given the option, how many of us jump aboard the winds of change and ride them to new horizons?
In fiction, change is essential to any plot. Can you imagine a story where the main character wakes up, goes to work, nothing much happens, they go home, make dinner, go to bed, and do the whole thing over again the next day? And the next? A definite DNF for most readers even with the dynamics of relationships and routines thrown in. Unless…the characters change through it.
Libbie Hawker states in her book on plotting ‘Take off your pants‘ that character arc, not plot, is at the centre of her outlining method. “Without a complete character arc underpinning it, any plot will feel totally irrelevant…. But if I am interested in your character, then even the quietest, simplest plot will feel compelling and important.”
I see a profound truth in Libbie’s statements. As well as opening my eyes to how important character development is in my fiction writing, I think there is a deep correlation to our own lives. Whether the changes we experience are circumstantial and significant or whether our days remain static, unless we are growing and changing within ourselves, our own life/plot might feel totally irrelevant. If we can be open to growth, seek it out and embrace it even if the life changes we experience are unwelcome, or the ones we seek are elusive, perhaps the real value in change is personal change?
Writers, consider making your main character’s arc central to your plot. And in your own life, I hope that you will take time to value the ways in which you have grown.
Happy writing all.