The Yin/Yang of Character Development
March 19th, 2013
Character development is probably one of the most important things we as writer’s are responsible for. People aren’t interested in characters in books or television that don’t grow or change (unless it’s a sitcom, of course, where the characters must be frozen in time. In that case it’s the situations and comedy that suck viewers in).
I like to view character development exactly like the Ying Yang symbol:
You notice a curved division, not a straight one (because there is no “straight and narrow” path to the end goal–characters change, they compromise, experience loss, gain, regrets, etc. and if it were easy that would be predictable and people don’t necessarily want predictable. I mean, more often than not your main protagonist had better ride off into the sunset, but the path there must be rocky and full of obstacles–just like life.
Also note that within the white there is a little spec of dust, and within the black, a light at the end of the tunnel.
All interesting characters can easily be placed within this black/white model (grey isn’t as fascinating to read about or watch–I consider grey the narrator or the threshold characters must cross).
Good characters have a little darkness within them (perhaps a cross to bear), and the most evil characters may have a little goodness in them (for redemption purposes later, or simply to gain a little sympathy from the readership so when good defeats evil it is bittersweet (a far more complex twist than a happy ending).
A very literal visual example of character development is in the TV show “Once Upon a Time” when (spoiler) Regina, the evil Queen (who is increasingly becoming understood and sympathized with through various justifications), pulls out Snow White’s pure heart and it’s got a small dark hole of blackness in it. The writer’s had to sully her somehow. Everyone around her is changing and compromising, it was time she also shifted. Plus, she’s Snow White, so I bet she bounces back a fully story arc later (3-4 episodes).
In the book “The Hobbit”, or “There and Back Again”, by J. R. R. Tolkien, Bilbo Baggins, a homebody embarks on a quest which takes him from his rural surroundings into dangerous territory for Thorin and his band of dwarves, who sing of reclaiming the Lonely Mountain and its vast treasure from the dragon, Smaug–the main antagonist. Personal growth and forms of heroism are central themes of the story, as well as the overcoming of greed and selfishness within some of the “good guys.” I think the battle for Lonely Mountain is best summed up by Bilbo’s comment: “Victory after all, I suppose! Well, it seems a very gloomy business.” That’s because no matter how pure the cause, in war and character development victory is never won without bloodshed (and at the “good guys” hands).
Recall the center illustration and check this out:
Just try not to get dizzy from all the circles.Share on Facebook