Monday, January 9, 2012

Guest post with author Vanessa Jaye

Please welcome author Vanessa Jaye!

Character Arcs vs. Character Reveals
Recently I budded into a conversation on twitter (cause that’s the type of gal I am) on the topic of favorite/most impressive character arcs. Spike from Buffy came up a lot, but for me I had to go with Tobias Beecher from the show OZ.  
 Beecher was a square middle-class, wife, 2.5 kids type of guy, who was convicted of a drunk-driving fatality.  This guy was a babe in the woods thrown amongst the wolves when he arrived at Oswald State Correctional Facility. His character change/growth was incredible—going from a state of almost total naiveté, to a hate-filled hardened killer, to a man who  makes peace with himself/ his sins and just wants to move forward and be a better man. 
At the same time of the twitter conversation, I got into a parallel conversation with my son about the show The Shield—specifically about Detective Vic Mackey. Vic is a dirty, dirty cop. No two ways about it. But the interesting thing about the Mackey character is how the writers show us this horrible man and his nefarious deeds from the jump and for the next 5 seasons, yet the viewer ends up rooting for Vic and hating all the characters who are out to nail his rump to the wall.
Because Vic wasn’t just the blackest shade of BAD *mwahahaha*; he was complex tints of grey. Many of his victims were the scum of the earth on the one hand, then on the other, we saw him go out of his way to do acts of selfless kindness.  The writers took us through all the layers of this character, good and bad, and what a fascinating trip of discovery it was.
Since this is a book blog, I’ll bring this back around to books.  Which do you prefer? A character arc/growth where the character starts at point A and ends at point C? Or do you like the excavation/reveal via the character’s layers? And what are your favorite examples?
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  1. Wow that is a hard question to answer. I really think I like both. If done well, they can both be an intriguing adventure. Two examples I can think of off the top of my head are:
    Vampire Zsadist from J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series (Lover Awakened) and
    Dark-Hunter Zarek from Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark-Hunter series (Dance With The Devil).
    To say they have baggage is an understatement. But the women who love them make them see they are more than just their past and their illusions of what bad men they are.
    Thanks for taking the time for the guest post.

  2. Oooo, Zadist is a good one! I love the way JR build him up over several books. Sadly I haven't read SK's Dark Hunter (but I several books from the series in my ever expanding to-be-read pile.)

  3. I have to say it really depends on the story. As long as the characters are well-rounded and invoke an emotional reaction I'm good with either.

    Hate to admit I can't think of any particular character off the top of my head (LOL television, movies, or book wise). The kid is forcing me to watch Family Guy and I'm afraid thinking is beyond me at this point.

  4. Waving at Vanessa!
    I enjoy both also. For instance in the mystery series by Carol O’Connell her heroine Kathleen Mallory is really sort of a twisted character. She is, I would say, a sociopath. Kathleen has no conscious when it comes to stealing things, or hurting people. She seems to lack a basic understanding of normal human reactions, but the Author let’s you see why Kathleen became this way.

    Ms. O’Connell does a bang up job of unfolding before you Kathleen’s early environment and the horrible circumstances that morphed her into this type of personality in order to survive.

    You come to realize that it’s actually an asset in her job as a detective making her more than a match for the monsters she is forced to take down.

    You wouldn’t think you would be rooting for such a character. If you listed her qualities on a piece of paper she would not be considered a likeable character. It’s the skill of the Author and the way she creates the layers for the character that allows you to sympathize with Kathleen, appreciate her and eventually root for her as she tries to become more human in her quest for love.

  5. I agree with you. I totally loved Spike!

    Hmmm, I was a big Moonlight fan and loved Mick St. John's buddy Josef. He always came off as a jerk but throughout the episodes, his character proved he wasn't really a bad guy and you understood his motives for being that way. I think that it's the same with how a character is written. He has to be redeemable and he has to show some sort of vulnerability for readers to want to give him a chance. If the character arc doesn't really change, then I most likely won't finish the book.

    Some of the best villains have morphed into my favorite characters...Angel, Cole from Charmed, etc etc.

  6. @Chrissy :

    Family Guy has that affect, doesn't it? lol. I just hate myself for laughing when I watch it because it's soo cringe inducing un-PC. lol. :-P

    I can't really say which I love better. I think there's something clever/interesting about presenting a character in a certain light then over the course of the book/show/movie things are brought to light which give a totally different interpretation or shed a different light on things. I just love those little surprise plot twists.

    But I also love a really well done arc/change.

  7. Okay Samantha, you have me sold. I'm going to check out Ms. O'Connell's books. That character sounds right up my alley. Sort of remains me of a female Dexter. He's another character who they keep revealing layers upon layers.

  8. Jax, excellent point! (can't copy & paste for some reason) But yes, either way, the character has to be redeemable/empathetic for you to care about the change or reveal. Also the change/reveal has to be done in an organic/believeable way. Doing a 180 turn on a dime just ticks peeps off.

    And thank you for reminding me about the character Cole.

  9. I guess I prefer a little of both too. But if I had to choose...gimme the movement from A to C. I love seeing the change in a character, the turning point, and experiencing it with them.

    And naturally, I can't think of a book character at the moment, lol. But one of my favorites in film would have to be the Sarah Connor character. Talk about a big leap from being a dowdy little waitress whose dates dumped her...! :)

  10. I love characters that are 'anti-hero's'. Loved the Shield for just that reason, and agree Zarek from the Dark Hunters is another favorite. I don't have a favourite way for them to develop, as along as characters grow and change.

  11. Hey Raine,

    Isn't it weird that it seems for the most part hard to come up with examples in books, but movies/tv shows are easier? (hmmm... something to think about).

    Oh Sarah Conner is a good one! And what was so genius was, you didn't even see the change. But given what you had happened to her in the previous movie, the Sarah that shows up in T2 was absolutely believable!

  12. Sasha - looks like I'll have to dig up my Dark Hunter books. With you on the anti-hero thing. Not just the bad-boy, but someone really questionable who has good in him. Love that conflicted push/pull.

  13. It totally depends on my mood. I never thought that I'd root for a "bad guy" and then one day I found myself doing exactly that (he just can't be 'too bad' - I definitely have a line not to be crossed). Of course, the only example I can come up with is Prison Break (season 1). The writing was tight and even though Michael was breaking the rules, I was right there with him!

  14. Kat, Michael is a good example of a 'bad guy' who was empathetic because you knew his motivations were all good/honorable. Depending on my mood I can go for the really anti-hero bad guy just because he's developed outside of conventional expections and I like being surprised. :)

  15. I don't know, it depends on the character. :) Sometimes I really hate someone too much to care when they're redeemed. I needs me a glimmer of goodness from the beginning, you know. Really great question!

  16. Great post, Vanessa. And an interesting question. Character arcs versus character reveals. Hmm. I think you nailed it with "complex." Black and white are way too easy--and boring--when it comes to characters. Gray is so much more interesting, especially when there's growth. To me the arcs and reveals are both sides of the same coin. Even in an arc, things are revealed to the reader bit by bit. Loved The Shield, by the way, and I couldn't believe I was also rooting for Vic, who really was a bad guy. Great writing.

    :) Marie

  17. Wow! What a deep discussion! I like both ways, but prefer to watch the character develop over time(I think). The only example I can think of is Zsadist. Sorry, I wanted to mention someone new but, my brain is not working this morning. lol! Also, I really do heart Zsadist. He's my favorite brother.

  18. Sorry I haven't been able to check in more often/sooner but work demands my time/attention.

    Also want to thank Laurie, again, for having me here and for everyone who's commented, or just dropped by.

    @Dee - definitely have to give a crap about the character or it's game over. I was kinda hoping someone who leave a comment that would decided the question for me once and for all, but I can't. Though, I think I like the reveal, especially when it makes me look back and see the all twists, bits of dialogue and actions in a different light.

    @Marie - Grey is always more interesting, isn't it? In this case it's the opposite of the *perfect* character. We want flaws. And with the bad characters, we want some virtues. I do see your point in that there are reveals in a growth arc, but don't know if there's an arc in the reveal. The character is essentially unchanged, it's just the viewers/reader's perception of them that changes/expands/deepens. :-P

    @Brenda - lol. This did get a little deep didn't it? =:O See, you just did it again, every time I decide I like the reveal a titch more, I think of an arc that I loved. JR did a phenom job with Zsadist, I think he's the fav Brother out of the all.


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