Thursday, September 13, 2012

What Sucks More? Unfinished Character or Story Arcs?

We were discussing this in the AQC chat two nights ago.

Which one do YOU think is more forgivable? An unfinished character arc, or unfinished story arc?

An unfinished story arc would be in the second Lord of the Rings where Frodo is taken by the crazy-black-cloaked-I-don't-know-how-to-spell-their-name-and-I'm-too-lazy-to-look-it-up-fine-I'll-look-it-up Orcs. (Oh. Right. I thought it was Nazgul or Ringswraith or something.) Anyway, in there, the story is basically left at a cliffhanger.

That's the type of story where you go, "WAIT, where in the world did the last thirty pages go?!?!"

An unfinished character arc, however, I have not seen an example of yet. That, I feel, says something, but more about that on Monday. The closest example I can find, which people seem to think, is the ending of The Catcher in the Rye where basically, nothing happens to Holden from beginning to end to technically change him. HOWEVER, I think that ending was the most beautiful ending of ever (except for Tale of Two Cities) so I would say there is a definite ending to the character arc there (of redemption and peace, I feel).

In here, you DO know the book ended, but it's depressing -- the character didn't fulfill his/her personal goal.

-- Basically, an unfinished character arc would be something like: "Mr. Bob was to get over his addiction to microwaves, but at the end, he buys all the microwaves in the world." This basically lends to a feeling of almost anger towards the protagonist -- even hopelessness. BUT, there is a line between failed character arcs and unfinished ones. More on that below.


We have all read those agonizing books where you go "NO, NO, YOU CANNOT END LIKE THAT!" not because you don't like how it ended, but because it didn't end. This is the unfinished story arc.

Have you read the books where the character doesn't develop? (I'm thinking of Feed by MT Anderson but I'm unsure even what the character arc was in that book... I'm not sure it existed even.) I can't think of anything, but if you can, comment away :) It's basically where a character is ALL on the way to overcoming his/her personal situation, but he/she doesn't. It just falls away. THE CHARACTER ARC EXISTS -- it is just not completed.

Which do YOU think is more important to complete?

This will be a Discussion for You :) I'll post my take on it Monday!

Have fun!


  1. I do think that character's got to be the focus... it's the character that *should* drive the story forward... but this is coming from a plot driven writer! I'm *such* a plot gal, so I know I'm trying to focus on character more. But it's SO Important to me that the plot is whole and complete... Gah. The never ending trial of trying to balance everything... How's that for a political answer ;)

  2. The character is more important, but I get more frustrated with unfinished stories.

  3. I don't like either one. I thought of The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I just felt like Mary was so selfish, and she really didn't change at all. I picked up the second one and was glad to see a little growth from her, but Dead tossed waves wasn't really about her.

  4. Hmm, you had to go mention Feed, and now my brain is churning... an example of a failed character arc, I think? He had the chance, through this amazing girl, to change, but he didn't. And he even sort of recognizes it, but he still doesn't change or starts the change too late.

    This explains why I thought it was an amazing book but I didn't love it. Thank you for helping me figure this out!