Can a main character have a flat arc?

Forums Fiction Characters Can a main character have a flat arc?

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    R.M. Archer

    Is it okay for my main character to not really change much over the course of the book or do I need to choose a new MC/rethink the story? Is it okay to have a main character with a flat arc if the characters around her change? Or does it just not work at all?

    Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. ENFP. Singer.

    Taylor Clogston

    Yup! This is called having a steadfast character when it’s in the hero’s role. I happen to have one, so I defend it more than others might =P

    A steadfast character stands justly in the face of an unjust world. The world opposes the hero’s virtue and morality and changes due to the hero’s refusal to conform to the world.

    This does not preclude character growth. It’s not a terribly noteworthy example, but Thor in Thor: Ragnarok is this sort of character. He starts off the movie telling Surtur he will fight the inevitable end of the world “because that’s what heroes do,” and spends the movie convincing others to change and align with this worldview. Thor himself changes a little bit as he learns his goal of “save Asgard” refers to its people, not the land itself.

    We modern readers generally prefer nuanced characters who change heavily over the course of the story, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use steadfast characters. We just need to provide enough sub-arcs and other dynamic elements it doesn’t look like we’re writing flawless Mary Sues.

    BTW, a steadfast character isn’t a flat character. Flat characters are just predictable and without nuance. Adding conflicting and complex traits that make a character act surprisingly in different circumstances can combat the potential flatness.

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

    R.M. Archer

    Hmm… I should probably clarify, then, that my character isn’t particularly noble. She’s not a dark character, but she’s incredibly cynical and doesn’t care much for people outside of her personal circle (which means she doesn’t care much for most of the people around her during the story). She has a strong sense of justice, but it’s a little bit skewed. Does that still work or would I need to have a more noble MC for it to work? (I’m trying to avoid having to entirely rewrite my story, but I’m not sure if it’s avoidable or not. XP)

    Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. ENFP. Singer.

    Taylor Clogston

    It depends on what you want out of the story, I guess?

    The story necessarily makes a statement about her traits and especially her “skewed” morality by the consequences of events and people she influences.

    If she does not change, you’re making an even stronger statement. If there are positive consequences to her actions, you’re condoning her worldview. If there are decidedly negative consequences but she still doesn’t change, that’s something more complicated and maybe more dangerous.

    Paradise Lost is often considered the first satanic work even though Lucifer’s actions have negative consequences in the story. I’ve seen more than a few people with “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” tattoos.

    Short answer: It can be done. Just know everything in your story makes an argument, and we should be conscientious of our textual arguments as Christians.

    "...the one with whom he so sought to talk has already interceded for him." -The Master and Margarita

    K.M. Small

    @r-m-archer absolutely! Captain America often underwent flat arcs, and I think his movies are some of the most powerful Marvel movies.

    In addition to changing other characters, this MCs of yours will probably be changing the world around her as well. Like a man vs. world sort of thing, or she’ll be fighting against a certain ideal. It can make for a really powerful story.

    Another example is Batman Begins. Though Bruce undergoes a mini-positive arc in the first half of the story, he’s essentially carrying a flat arc through the rest of the movie.

    As a final thought, I don’t think a character has to be necessarily perfect or noble to have a flat arc. They can have a flat arc with a negative belief as well. It’s just the process of the character changing those and the world around him that makes it a flat arc 🙂

    ~ Khylie
    "Beauty will save the world." - Dostoevsky

    R.M. Archer

    *nods* I’ll have to think it over some more and see how it’s working with the story and what message I’m communicating. Thanks for the insight. 🙂

    Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. ENFP. Singer.

    F.C. Tait

    @r-m-archer I’ve been studying flat arcs recently because I’m planning to write one myself. Basically a positive arc character learns a truth, but a flat arc character knows that truth already and has to stick to it throughout the story even when it’s difficult. The character doesn’t necessarily have to be noble, but they need a principle to stick to even in the face of opposition, so that they change the world around them in some way and the readers can root for them.

    Flat arc protagonists are especially popular in more action-based stories, because there’s less time for in-depth character change and development in this kind of plot. Examples include Batman from the Dark Knight trilogy, Katniss from the Hunger Games, and Elanor from Sense and Sensibility.

    R.M. Archer

    @fctait Ah. I wasn’t fully aware of that description before. That’s really helpful. 🙂

    Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. ENFP. Singer.


    @r-m-archer  The key component for a story with a flat character arc is doubt. The MC will be doubting the values he professes. And that’s where the conflict will arise.

    I find this type of character arc to be powerful because many Christians experience doubt in their beliefs at some time in their lives.  This type of story can really highlight the affirmation of those values.

    Spreading God's love until I can see seven billion smiles. 🙂 https://sevenbillionsmiles.home.blog


    @r-m-archer I think flat arcs are usually okay, but if you’re using it, then instead of the character changing, the character helps other people to change in one way or another. So even a cynical character could accomplish that, they don’t have to be particularly noble—But it may help. But change is at the core of every story, so if your MC isn’t changing, then someone should be changing.

    No one reads these anyway

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