Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Cheese and Character Arcs

I’m a believer that people can change. If they really want to and are willing to put in the necessary work.

We all have bad habits. Last night, as the Roomie and I were eating a dinner of nachos for the *ahem* second night in a row, she looked at me and said, “I’ll probably regret all this cheese when I die of heart congestion, but right now I’m feeling pretty good.” I thought about this for a moment and then nodded and told her that when I’m in the middle of my future cardiac arrest, I’m pretty sure that my only thought will be, “I’d do it all again.”

Why? Because nachos are delicious and there is no such thing as eating too much cheese.

Still, I know it’s not good for me and from time to time I go on sudden kicks of healthiness. Generally they are set off while I’m standing in the middle of The Container Store. Something about that place makes me think dangerous thoughts, like:

This is it. This is when I get my life completely organized. Starting with this box/drawer thingie. What is this for? Oh, it doesn’t matter. It’s for my more organized life. Everything will be in its place. Ooooh, and I’m going to eat better too! I should pick up some kitchen organization tools. And those clips to keep my socks together in the washer.

I set off with the greatest of intentions, completely confident in my ability to get my life in tip-top shape. And two days later I’m eating macaroni and cheese with a grilled cheese chaser and wondering why in all of hell none of my socks match.

You see, for the rest of my life I am likely going to be eating more cheese than I should. For one, cheese is delicious. And for two, I don’t really care enough about stopping to put in the necessary work to break the habit. Who knows, maybe someday I will. And I’ll deal with my cheese withdrawal on that darkest of dark days, but for now, I’ll keep eating cheese and exert my energy on changing things that I do care about. Like the fact that when I watch old episodes of Who’s Afraid of the Dark? I have to sheepishly raise my hand.

And this is what I look for in character arcs when I read. I want the character to be in a different place than they were, emotionally and mentally, when the story began. Otherwise things are just boring. I want them to have faced their biggest weaknesses and found a way to triumph over them. These victories should not come easily or they’re not really all that impressive. I want to see the work.

Despite the victories they win, I don’t want to read about characters who transcend all to become a perfect being by the time I turn the last page. There should still be flaws because that’s more true to life. Because while I may have faith that I will eventually get past my fear of the dark, I would place good odds that at the end of my story I’m still going to be eating too much cheese and listening to the TV too loudly and whining like a ninny every time I see a bug. 

You can't win 'em all.

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