Hey, Hollywood, knock it off with the character arcs, already
If you’ve ever studied writing or stories, one of the big techniques you’ll be familiar with is what is called the character arc. This is the change that a character undergoes in the story. For example, most people are familiar with Charles Dickens’s famous character Ebenezer Scrooge. The guy was completely stingy and cold-hearted in the beginning of the story, but then becomes generous and loving at the end. That’s his arc, and it was a dramatic one.
I like arcs, and understand why they are so powerful. I think they appear in all the best books and movies. But I’ve come to a point where I’m starting to get annoyed at them. In particular, I’m starting to get annoyed at Hollywood.
For a long time, it’s been pretty obvious to me, that there are some people involved in the movie business who are just horrible storytellers. I suspect they are all the movie executives. These people are probably good at raising money, and managing big projects, so they find themselves in positions of power over all aspects of the production, including (unfortunately) the script. So if you’re a bean counter, and are in charge of evaluating a script, and basically possess no writing skills of your own, how would you manage ensuring that your story is a good one? You would invent a formula, of course! Brilliant!
So what I think happened is that all these bean counters got together, took the most financially successful movies they knew, and tried to distill the blockbuster ingredient list out of them. They came up with all sorts of things, but among the most important to them was the character arc. Because they determined that it was so critical, it shows up everywhere, and in some cases, replaces the plot itself.
Out of the last five movies I’ve seen, all of them used the character arc as the plot itself. In other words, the movie is a sequence of scenes whose only job is to support the character transformation that the writers want to see the main character undergo. This is the only purpose to the plot, and if you took the character arc piece out, the plot itself ends up being completely random and pointless. After doing this, what you get is a large character transformation (yay, formula!), but a completely lame movie. Sorry guys, character arcs aren’t the main thing. Plot is. The story isn’t about the character’s change. That’s the side effect of the character going through the plot. It’s important, and satisfying when done right, but it’s secondary. It’s the plot that needs to drive the story, not the character arcs. Your formula is crap.
I really like movies. Or at least I used to. But I’m getting so sick of watching boring ones. I just don’t see how someone can spend $100M+ on a movie that doesn’t have a decent story behind it. Shouldn’t that be the most important thing? Isn’t that the whole point? I really wish Hollywood would revise their formula to value the story itself. You don’t need CGI, explosions, or sex scenes to make a great movie. You just need a good story.