I wanted to expand a bit on my “Character is about constancy” statement from a few weeks back–mainly because it flies in the face of all conventional storytelling wisdom. My writing group is always talking about character change: “What changes for this character?” “Yes, but how is he changed by these events?” “I’m not seeing any change in this story.” Change is the main rubric by which we figure out whether what we’ve read is a story, or just a bit of a ramble.
So I don’t mean, exactly, that characters should never change. I just mean that they should remain knowable.
Your love for a character, I think, is built on those moments when the character behaves predictably. Spock gets into a verbal tussle with Dr. McCoy and makes a scathingly arch comment. And you smile, and shake your head, and think to yourself, “Oh, that Spock.”
If the new Star Trek movie hadn’t contained any “Oh, that Spock” moments, it wouldn’t have been about Spock. It would have been about some other dude who happened to have Spock’s name and biographical data.
Because, here’s the deal: You can’t love somebody without knowing them. The things you know about them don’t have to be good things, they just have to be individual and predictable. We love Dr. House when he’s rude. We love Mr. Monk when he’s painfully awkward. And we love Remington Steele when he’s lazy. (ok, maybe you don’t–but I do!)
It’s true in life, too. Think back to your favorite story about a loved one. Do you like to tell it because it’s really all that funny, or heartwarming, or clever? Or do you just like it because it illustrates, to a T, who that person is?
You can’t love someone without knowing them: ok, no big surprise. But here’s the kicker: the reverse is true too. In most cases, you can’t really know somebody without loving them, at least a little bit. The two are a sweet little package deal.