Just a few years ago, I was a die-hard critic of any movie made from a book. Regardless of stupid mistakes in the book, I would still say the movie should have stuck to it. After all, it was the book I fell in love with– why do I have to watch a horrible movie to accompany it? I disliked Eragon, I disliked Percy Jackson and the Olympians… but for some reason, though everyone said it didn’t follow the book, I loved the adaptation of the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
The main problem most people had with it was the antagonism between Peter and Caspian, the antagonism between Peter and Trumpkin, the antagonism between Peter and… well, everybody. Peter was always fighting someone in that movie, and more often than not, losing. He wasn’t the greatest role model. But in my opinion, that was a great improvement on his character from the book. In the book, Peter had learned everything he had to learn, and now all that was left was to help Caspian and leave Narnia forever. In the movie, he actually had a character arc.
Unfortunately for the critics, it was a very obvious and very violent character arc. Peter rushes headlong into fights he can’t win, just because his pride is hurt. At the beginning of the movie, he’s in a fight with some bullies. As the movie progresses, he fights with Trumpkin and Lucy, then starts swinging at Caspian before they’ve had a chance to introduce themselves. He decides to override everyone else and order a raid on Miraz’s castle, which ends in horrible failure. After that, he saves Caspian from freeing the White Witch– so he’s partially successful– but then almost does the same thing himself. The only thing that keeps him from failing that time is Edmund. Peter keeps fighting– and failing– all through the movie.
But then, after all that failure, he decides to fight Miraz directly. Considering his record, is this a good idea? No. But are his motives better? Absolutely. This time he’s fighting for something other than pride. He isn’t rushing into a fight he can’t win. Has he conquered his violent flaw? Not really– he’s conquered his motivational flaw.
In Pixar movies, they have this style of character development (just like everything else in their arsenal) down to a science. In Finding Nemo, Nemo is trying to be independent successfully while his father is trying to let things go without losing them while Dory is trying to remember things. Each of them fail at the very beginning, keep failing all the way through, but finally succeed at the end.
This cycle of failure and success works so well for any kind of story– and character development is just another story. All the characters should want something, right? Is the character development just another name for those characters meeting those goals? No. Character development, even in this case, is usually unseen by the characters. Peter wants to be respected as High King again– winning fights, though it’s a must, is not his goal. It’s merely another product of his journey, one that makes him a better person.
So, how does this process work? It isn’t exactly like a regular story; it doesn’t follow the Hollywood Formula. There is no midpoint, no low point, no choice to be made in order to erase this flaw. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t know how to incorporate it.
In order to use character development like this, look at it as a series of struggles, just like Peter’s fights. In the beginning, the character will struggle for something, but will be stopped by the flaw and fail. As the story progresses, the struggles go on, gradually growing in scale until the failures are so great they add to the overall low point of the story. (That’s a really cool effect once you figure it out.) Once the final battle comes, however, have them fight the same sort of battle with one different element– and succeed.
Occasionally it’s difficult to figure out how to weave those struggles into the plot, but if your characters are affected by the plot, you should have no problem finding ways to add character development. Good luck with your struggles.