Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Absent Middle

Maven Lacey KayeYesterday, Maven Darcy's post on character arcs got me thinking about my own love/hate relationship with C/A.

OK, as I write that I see the fallacy in my description. It's not that I hate C/As. I LOVE C/As. With the fire of a thousand Maven Darcy suns. What I hate -- hate, hate, hate -- is when the character changes through a process I can't see. So, for example, take the secondary character you love in Book Wonderful. You can't *wait* to read about him in the next book in the series, Book WonderfullER. But when you open BWII, the character you loved as a secondary character has (often) taken a tumble into a black pit of despair. The happy sidekick with the sexy grin (but not sexier than the hero's!) was beaten in a duel/spent the last year and a half of his life in an enemy prison camp/married and then lost some other wife you never saw/suddenly has pressing concerns never hinted at in the first book.

This seems to happen ALL THE TIME. Drives me crazy! I would guess that the author didn't have the character's full story in mind when she wrote book 1. He was a place holder, the friend or mentor the hero in book 1 needed. When she goes to write book 2, suddenly the character has no history, no depth to support a good GMC/conflict with the heroine. So she makes a Tragic Event occur in his past, and whammo, instant tortured hero.

KEEP THE CHARACTER THE SAME BETWEEN BOOKS!!! My thinking: if you want to make someone entirely new up, then make someone new up! Then I won't be disappointed the sidekick I loved isn't back to be the hero.

A variant on this is the hero who suddenly transforms by the end of the book for no reason. Most often, this is a function of the first time he sees the heroine at home and hearth. Suddenly, he recants his rakehell ways and determines to become a simple landowner. After all, she looked so hawt in her walking dress, sun-kissed cheeks and wind-blown hair! Nay, he shall never be a Society Sir again! It's corn and sheep from here on out!

Noooooooooooooo!!! Why do people have to change for True Love to exist? That's... well, it's a purely romantic thought. Obviously, I don't want my rakehell tossing up the skirts of anything in heels. But at the same time, why does his *character* have to change?

I believe working within the confines of the established character builds more conflict, not less. Take, for example, my rake-cum-landowner hero. It's ok for him to decide he wants to live in the country if there's a REASON. A good reason. Usually shown through some sort of conflict or problem he and the heroine work out together. Not because he had a houseparty, she showed up with her chaperone, and they got it on in the gazebo. Maybe because the rake secretly has a passion for roses, and the heroine can't stand large crowds. But just tossing off their old characterizations to embrace the family values of a quiet, private life wherein they shall boink like bunnies and make many generations of happy little dukes...I'd rather have them not change at all than make a mysterious leap in logic.

What about you? Do Epilogues often make you cringe? Have you ever hated a subcharacter you loved in one book the minute you found out he'd been beaten/imprisoned/impoverished/widowed just before his own story starts? What do you think is appropriate character growth? Do you prefer steep arcs or more gradual ones?

13 comments:

Tez Miller said...

I haven't read it myself, but from my trusted sources, the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows totally sucked. The fangirlies probably loved it, but the people I rely on thought it was lame. And since I know what happens in that Epilogue, I also agree it's kinda lame ;-)

Have a lovely day! :-)

Christine Koehler said...

Why do people have to change for True Love to exist?

Very good question and my #1 pet peeve. Suddenly, in order for the story to work and that HEA ending, poof! insta-chango. No growth, no reason, just wham…ooh, I’ve changed.

Re: Harry Potter, Tez...I understand the 7th book is best finished pre-epilogue. Since I stopped reading midway through book 5 because I found myself liking the bad guys more than Harry, I needed to pump friends for that info. It was pretty unanimous.

Erica Ridley said...

I so hear you, Lace! I read a book by one of my keeper-shelf favorites where I fell totally in love with the hero's younger brother (or was it cousin? Something.) and how he interacted with the heroine's younger (and deaf-mute) sister. He was perfect to her--they made up their own version of sign language and everything. I couldn't wait for her story. And then I finally read it, only to discover the hero- who-used-to-be- so-charming- and-thoughtful had gone away, married someone else who turned out to be an utter beeyotch and ruined his life, and was now on his way back home after several years of absence. He had to go from selfish/needy/jerkly to loving/considerate, so it was a good arc as far as such things go, but since I'd read Book 1, I knew he'd started out loving/considerate in the first place and I resented that he'd had to become bad in order to become good again.

(Still on my keeper shelf, and all, but I'm just saying. I get you.)

P.S.
I pretty much hated the epilogue to HPATDH, too, Tez. Over the top, IMHO.

Bill Clark said...

the first time he sees the heroine at home and hearth. Suddenly, he recants his rakehell ways and determines to become a simple landowner. After all, she looked so hawt in her walking dress, sun-kissed cheeks and wind-blown hair! Nay, he shall never be a Society Sir again! It's corn and sheep from here on out!

I'm with you, Lace. Lord Evesham would never change his C/A just because Miss Kitty has had him abducted and teletransported by space aliens. I mean, c'mon, you need more than just that to effect a character change! :-)

lacey kaye said...

Tez, good example re: HPATDH. I haven't read it yet, but I received the same information from my family members.

Christine: in order for the story to work and that HEA ending, poof! -- yes! So my question is, *why* does there need to be some strange change to make an HEA work? Shouldn't an HEA fall naturally from the trials of the characters themselves?

Erica, I, too, loved That Book's prequel. Le sigh. With a wtf follow-on...

Bill, you never cease to slay me. Where's today's installment?

Tessa Dare said...

I have the hardest time with character arcs. No matter how I think they're going to learn/grow/change over the course of the book, the characters themselves always seem to have different ideas. I seem to know in my mind, from the outset of the book, exactly how my characters would act in each situation - it just takes me most of the book to figure out WHY. And then I have to go back and work that in.

Camilla Bartley said...

I dislike epilogues and prologues because I feel the subtle weaving of exposition is an art form. If I am unable to snag attention by page one of the first chapter, then I'm doing something wrong.

When it comes to character arcs I don't see it so much as the h/h "changing" to experience "True Love", but as both adapting to having one another in their lives and circumstances forcing them to realize this. If you look at a relationship you've had in real life, the path wasn't "oh, you're hot and I'm hot, let's have sex, oh we should move in together, I love you!" was it?

In a romance novel, the character's should rub against one another in their quest to learning how compatible they are--which means that the h/h should adapt. One thing I don't see enough of is the hero and heroine's internal conflicts being squeezed so that they don't know whether the hero/heroine is worth it and then being forced to make a yea or nay decision.

Frequently the story ends with one or the other just going to rescue the other because it's "romantic", or, one gives up and the other comes to seek them out to "grovel" or something. Definitely not a true character arc, and in fact, quite often writer manipulation because they didn't know how to end the book with their characters; they just ended it the way they feel it's expected to end.

I just realized that I'm rambling, but I take care of the pesky secondary characters by wrapping up their story in one book since I dislike loose ends.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I actually really liked the Epilogue in Harry Potter. Yes, it was very on the nose, but I found it far more believable then, well, stuff that happened in the actual book.

What you described is probably my biggest pet peeve in those "band of brothers" style series. They make the hero all angsty and the sidekick all fun, and then in the next book, the sidekick is the new hero, and he's all angsty for some strange reason and then the old hero has somehow become completely happy go lucky and a know-it-all because he's found True Love, which magically solves all? Nah...

lacey kaye said...

Camilla, you're welcome to ramble anytime! What you're describing is, I believe, the way books *should* flow. I do think, though, too many times there isn't so much "growth" as "change."

Now, too often, we hear the adage, "People don't change." Your cheating husband? Well, he cheated on his last girlfriend; what did you expect? People don't change. But that's not true, either. People DO change. That's often how couples grow apart, right? Grow being the operative word there. So I'm not against the idea that the characters shouldn't move toward each other to meet each other's wants and needs by the end of the book -- not at all. I just want to *see* it, which, to me, means growth.

OK, now I'm rambling!

Diana, you described the band of brothers thing perfectly! Sudden angst -- why, why, why?!

Darcy Burke said...

Brilliant post, Lace. And thank you Diana, I loved the HP7 epilogue too. Everyone has such great, thought-provoking comments today. I don't have a preference on arcs. Some characters require steep arcs, while others can be more gradual. Totally depends on that stuff you throw at them.

Carrie said...

Diana -- I'm totally with you on that. It's like every happy go lucky side kick is hiding deep pain and agnst just waiting to be explored.

The thing that really bothered me with the HP epilogue is that there were too many names too quickly and I got confused. I'm really easy to consuse with names :)

Jacqueline Barbour said...

Well, you know I'm totally with you here, Lacey. I love a book where the characters grow and change, but they have to be shown in the process of that growth and change, or the story will lose me.

As to the HP epilogue, I can register an opinion, seeing as how I (gasp) have never managed to get past the first chapter of the first book.

Bill Clark said...

Camilla said,

the path wasn't "oh, you're hot and I'm hot, let's have sex, oh we should move in together, I love you!" was it?

*Bill says, "Oops!"*

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