Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Character Arc

In Thrillers particularly, the changes in character arc can be buried if the author isn't vigilant. Many times, characters get lost beneath all the external drama and action that's enveloping the reader. The point of having conflict and tension is for the main character(s) to strengthen and grow as a result of the challenges they face. As an author, I use internal monologue to add emotional conflict and internal challenge to offset external activity. Readers are more interested in internal conflict than external conflict.

In page turning Thrillers, when you think things can't get worse, they do. I'll give you an example from the film, The Mission. If you haven't seen the movie, rent it, and watch the climb scene.

Robert De Niro plays Rodrigo Mendoza, a slave trader who kills his own brother for sleeping with his fiancee. For his sins, Rodrigo accompanies the Jesuits on a trek to visit the Guarani people above the Igazu Falls. He serves as their slave. In the pouring rain, Rodrigo carries all the Jesuits' equipment up the side of the Falls. He receives no help. When you think he's made the top, he slips down and must start his climb again. Even though he says nothing, the viewers can hear his Internal Monologue in his face, his body, and anguished cries. He reaches the top with all the Jesuit's things. The Jesuits pick up their packs, and Rodrigo finds redemption.

But the focus is not the rain, the mountain, or the Jesuits. The focus is the human struggle. The man, Rodrigo, has overcome. This is what makes a Thriller. A writer's job is to go and do likewise.


John Biggs said...

I agree with you Bill, Character arc is extremely important. I think this is an element of the craft that is sadly lacking in mystery and thriller meta-novels. I like Sue Grafton novels but her character never changes. Jonathan Kellerman's characters change a great deal. So--by the way--do Bill Wetterman's.

Vonnie said...

Very good point, Bill. Sometimes when I'm writing thrillers I get caught up in the action and regard the hero's internalisation as just 'stuff' to get through. Many published books seem to do the same thing. Lesson learned!