Story Structure: Character Growth

STORY STRUCTURE QUESTION:

Do you want your story to focus on waiting for something to begin or something to end?  The answer to this question determines the feel of the story to one of being chased or one of pursuing.

DIGGING DEEPER:

Over the course of your story, your Main Character will either grow out of something or grow into something.

If your story concerns a Main Character who Changes, they will eventually come to believe they are the cause of their own problems (that’s why they change).

If your Main Character grows out of an old attitude or approach (e.g. loses the chip on their shoulder), then they are a Stop character. If they grow into a new way of being (e.g. fills a hole in their heart), then they are a Start character.

But If your story concerns a Main Character who Remains Steadfast, something in the world around her will appear to be the cause of their troubles. If they are trying to hold out long enough for something to stop bothering them, then they are a Stop character. If they are trying to hold out long enough for something to begin, then she is a Start character.

If you want the emphasis in your story to be on troubles which have to end, choose “Stop.” If you want to emphasize positive things that need to begin, choose “Start.”

THEORY:

Whether a Main Character eventually changes its nature or remains steadfast, it will still grow over the course of the story. This growth has a direction. Either it will grow into something (Start) or grow out of something (Stop).

As an example we can look to Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Does Scrooge need to change because he is excessively miserly (Stop), or because he lacks generosity (Start)? In the Dickens’ story it is clear that Scrooge’s problems stem from his passive lack of compassion, not from his active greed. It is not that he is on the attack, but that he does not help others where help is desperately needed. So, according to the way Charles Dickens told the story, Scrooge needs to Start being generous, rather than Stop being miserly.

A  Main Character who changes either grows by adding a characteristic it lacks (Start) or by dropping a characteristic it already has (Stop). Either way, its make up is changed in nature.

In contrast, a Main Character who remains steadfast it its approach/beliefs, does not change in nature. Rather, it grows in its resolve to remain unchanged. It can grow by holding out against something that is increasingly bad while waiting for it to Stop. Or, it can grow by holding out for something in her environment to Start. Either way, the change appears somewhere in its environment instead of in the character itself.

EXAMPLE STORIES: Start and Stop

STORIES that have Growth of Start:

A Doll’s House: Nora must stand on her own and start a new life.

The Age of Innocence: Newland must start to externalize his liberal ideas of living, if he is to achieve true happiness in his life.

All About Eve: Margo has to start believing in herself. She must begin to be comfortable with her age, and accept that Bill loves her for who she is, on the stage and off.

Apt Pupil: Todd starts acting on the evils of Dussander’s memories. He tortures and kills winos, then moves on to kill whoever gets in his way (Rubber Ed), and next, anonymous freeway travelers.

Blade Runner: Deckard needs to start getting in touch with his emotions if he’s to get past being a killing machine and become more human.

Bringing Up Baby: David ultimately needs to do something about the fact that deep down he really loves Susan. Early on, he admits that “In moments of quiet, I’m strangely drawn to you. But, well, there haven’t been any quiet moments.” When David jumps to Susan’s rescue at the end (after Susan has just dragged in the wild leopard), Susan accepts it as an acknowledgment of his love.

Candida: Morell needs to hold out for Candida to make the decision to stay with him.

Casablanca: Rick must start becoming the conscientious man he was in Paris, pick up the fight against the Nazis, and fill the hole in his heart created by Ilsa’s desertion.

The Glass Menagerie: Laura is holding out for something good to come into her life — for her “Prince Charming” to arrive and take her away to live happily ever after.

The Graduate: Ben has a hole in his heart. A huge sucking chest wound (metaphorically speaking) of a hole that needs to be filled by starting on a path of his own choosing. However, it could be said that Ben is wasting his time and should stuff aside all of his feelings, lie about the affair, pretend to be interested in plastics, and move onto the business of aggressively pursuing his future. That’s probably what he should start doing if he wants to achieve the objective story goal. But would that make him happy?

Klute: While investigating leads in Tom’s disappearance, Klute stays close to Bree, holding out for the man who’s stalking her to make a mistake and reveal himself.

Othello: Othello must start to realize that he can’t run his marriage using the same unbending discipline and militaristic thinking he uses to rule his soldiers. He must start to question Iago’s motives for accusing Desdemona of being unfaithful, and look beyond the surface of events for their true meaning and greater implications.

The Philadelphia Story: Ultimately, Tracy must start being more forgiving and more accepting of human frailties.

Quills: Abbe de Coulmier needs to take the upper hand in his relationship with The Marquis to be successful in restraining the inmate’s prose. This does not happen.

Rear Window: The firmly entrenched bachelor, Jeff, needs to start admitting what he likes about marriage–he obviously enjoys being pampered by his nurse–and commit to his relationship with Lisa, before he turns into a “lonesome and bitter old man.” He also needs to begin a personal involvement with Thorwald if he’s to entrap him.

Rebel Without a Cause: Jim wants Frank to start to act like a man so that he can respect him as a father; Jim’s family moves constantly, ostensibly to give their son a fresh start each time:  Ray: That why you moved from the last town? ‘Cause you were in trouble? You can talk about it if you want to–I know about it anyway. Routine check.
Jim: And they think they are protecting me by moving.
Ray: You were getting a good start in the wrong direction back there. Why did you do it? (Stern 15)

Romeo and Juliet: Romeo has to start acting like the man that Juliet is certain he can be.

Rosemary’s Baby: Rosemary must take charge of her own life and that of the baby’s.

Searching for Bobby Fischer: Josh holds out for Bruce and Fred’s unconditional support.

Sula: Nel starts living her own life independent of hurt and anger.

Sunset Boulevard: Joe must start to act with more integrity if he’s going to truly be a success. He needs to start telling the truth to the finance men, to Norma about her script, to Artie and Betty about his relationship with Norma, if he hopes to set things straight in his life. He needs to stop lying to himself about getting by on trite stories and concentrate on writing meaningful material instead.

To Kill a Mockingbird: Scout lacks open-mindedness as she sees issues in black and white. Her tolerance of individual differences starts when she can understand another person’s point of view.

Tootsie: Michael must start to think about other people’s needs and feelings, instead of pushing his values and opinions on everyone.

Unforgiven: Although Munny tells the Kid that he’s “not like that no more,” he must unfortunately disregard the wishes of his late wife and start using his meanness and killing skills if he’s to succeed and survive in this violent, lawless environment.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: Martha has strayed far too far into the land of perception. Even though Martha says, “Truth and illusion, George; you don’t know the difference,” it is actually Martha who cannot tell the difference anymore and George must hold out for Martha to start being able to recognize the difference.

Washington Square: Regarding Catherine, the audience is waiting for her to start standing up for herself.

When Harry Met Sally: Harry’s loneliness increases when he fails to make the obvious decision to become romantically involved with his best (girl) friend. It is once he comprehends his friendship with her does not have to be exclusive of an intimate relationship, he can start living a fulfilling life, “And I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with someone, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible” (Ephron, Reiner, & Scheinman, 1988, p. 120).

Witness: Rachel needs to fill the gap left by the death of her husband, Jacob. She needs someone to love–who’ll appreciate her sexuality–and be a father for Samuel.
X-Files: Beyond the Sea: Scully has to start to believe in herself apart from what her father may have thought of her life choices. She must believe in her ability to solve this case without the guidance of her partner, and act effectively to save the kidnap victims.

STORIES that have Growth of Stop:

A Clockwork Orange: Alex is caught up in circumstances beyond his control as he becomes a pawn of political machinations–he tries to hold out until it stops. Alex’s nature is trapped in a society not of his own making–society attempts to make his behavior conform by forcing him to go to school, imprisoning him, and brainwashing him. Alex is trying to keep his nature intact while outlasting these threats. From society’s viewpoint, it is waiting for Alex to stop committing random acts of senseless violence.

All That Jazz: If Joe is to live, he must stop drinking, drugging, and screwing around.
Audrey, Katie, and Michelle entreat him to do this, singing: “You better stop, you better change, you better stop and change your ways today” (Aurthur and Fosse 143).
Amadeus: Salieri must Stop Mozart, his music, his fame. He must stop God in His choice of Mozart as His Voice. He must stop his own adherence to his part of the bargain he made with God.

Barefoot in the Park: In order to have a happy marriage, Paul realizes he must stop his controlling behavior.

Being There: Chance must hold on until he finds a permanent living arrangement.

Body Heat: EVERYONE tells Ned he should stop his destructive behavior–from the judge at the beginning, to Lowenstein (the D.A.), to Oscar (the Detective), to Edmond Walker (Mattie’s husband), to the arsonist, etc. And, indeed, Ned really does need to stop–a lesson he learns too late.

Boyz N The Hood: Tre must stop giving into the temptation to act before he thinks. He needs to look at the possible consequences of his actions.

Braveheart: Wallace, like the audience, is waiting for England to stop its oppression and domination of Scotland; waiting for the Scottish lords to stop their cross-purposes and unite against England.

Bull Durham: Annie needs to stop being quite so in control of her life (and everyone else’s). Only by giving up on her self-imposed rules and preconceptions does she find true fulfillment.

Charlotte’s Web: Wilbur stops acting like a helpless piglet and grows up.

Chinatown: Jake is trying to hold out for the inequities in life to end. This is difficult because he is in a business that focuses on people’s troubles.

The Client: Reggie needs to stop making decisions based on what may be likely. She often doesn’t have enough information and that gets her into trouble.

The Crucible: John is waiting for the madness of the witch trials to stop and his life to return to some semblance of normalcy.

El Mariachi: El Mariachi must stop living in a dream world and prepare to face the harsh realities of a drifter’ s existence:  “All I wanted was to be a mariachi like my ancestors. But the city I thought would bring me luck, brought only a curse. I lost my guitar, my hand, and her. With this injury I may never play the guitar again. Without her, I have no love. But with the dog, and the weapons, I’m prepared for the future.” (Rodriguez, 1993)

Four Weddings And A Funeral: Charles needs to stop sabotaging his relationships.

The Fugitive: Dr. Kimble must wait for this terrible situation–the ignorance of his innocence and efforts to remove him permanently from society–to end.

The Godfather: Michael resists association with his family at first, indicating that he plans to be with Kaye and not get involved in the family business. He stops this resistance, however, when all of his family’s power is threatened and he becomes the only one capable of preserving it.

The Great Gatsby: Nick stop’s reserving judgment, as illustrated in his moral indictment of Tom and Daisy Buchanan:  “I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made….”

Hamlet: Hamlet must stop mulling over the information given to him by his father’s ghost. Only then may he begin to accept the knowledge as truth and act accordingly.

Harold and Maude: Harold must lose his fear of change, and stop alienating those who try to get close to him by faking suicide.

Heavenly Creatures: Pauline needs to stop her obsession of being with Juliet, and stop living in a fantasy world of her own creation where problems are easily resolved by violent acts.

Lawrence of Arabia: Lawrence needs to stop believing he’s infallible, the only one with the right answers. He needs to realize there are forces at work larger than him, and that he cannot make everything “written in here” (in his head) come true by sheer force of will.

Lolita: The reader wants Humbert to stop molesting Lolita.

The Piano Lesson: Berniece has to stop blaming her brother for her husband’s death. She must also quit using the piano as an excuse for her fear and bitterness, and take steps to bury the past and get on with her life.

Platoon: Chris must stop thinking that war will define him as a man.

Pride and Prejudice: Elizabeth must discard her prejudice of Mr. Darcy.

Rain Man: Charlie must stop his materialistic, selfish, non-committal attitude toward life. He cares only about the money he didn’t get from his father and considers Raymond only as a way to get it:  CHARLIE: I got him and they want him. I’m going to keep him until I get my half. I deserve that.

Reservoir Dogs: Mr. White must stop believing his own (faulty) instincts.

Revenge of the Nerds: Lewis holds fast against the onslaught of the Alpha-Betas and the Pi Deltas who persecute him for being a nerd. They are pressuring him, with the help of the Greek Council and the football coach, to give up trying to amount to anything at Adams, and Lewis remains steadfast until they stop.

The Silence of the Lambs: Steadfast in her resolve, Clarice must hold out until the process that is threatening the “lambs” (specifically the serial killer, generally all killers) comes to an end.

The Simpsons Christmas Special: Homer needs to stop fumbling with the truth and bumbling with his efforts to cover up his actions.

All Good Things (Star Trek: The Next Generation): Picard must stop looking at the universe and the time-space continuum in a linear fashion if he is to recognize the advantage of his time-shifting and solve the meaning of the paradox. At the scene of the “Trial,” Picard says to Q that seven years earlier Q had already tried him and his crew. Q responded flippantly that Picard always looks at time in such a “linear” fashion.

Star Wars: Luke must stop testing his readiness and listening to others’ advice so that he may trust in himself.

The Sun Also Rises: The audience is waiting for Jake to stop obsessing over Brett.

Taxi Driver: Travis needs to stop being God’s policeman–obsessing over the kind of people he dislikes doing their thing, on the streets of New York City or in the back seat of his cab–and get a life of his own.

Toy Story: Woody needs to stop feeling entitled to sole possession of the “spot” on Andy’s bed. He needs to stop being insecure, competitive, and jealous. He needs to stop measuring himself in terms of “playtime.” If he would stop all these things, he could relax and accept a new state of affairs which is out of his control anyway.

The Verdict: Frank must stop disbelieving that the Justice System is completely unjust.

The Wild Bunch: Pike Bishop is “tired of being hunted.” He hides out in Mexico, holding out for his pursuers–“Railroad men– Pinkertons — bounty hunters.”–especially Thornton, to give up or be killed by Mapache’s men.

This text has been excerpted from our
Dramatica Story Structure Software

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