One of the first things writers learn is that good drama means your characters change, either for better or worse, within the scope of the story.
Why is change so important?
Because it doesn’t happen without conflict, which keeps the motor of our story running. That lesson really struck me to the core when I took a screenwriting class. The instructor used the example of “Thelma and Louise.” Whose movie was it? he asked.
It was Thelma’s and Louise’s, we answered.
No. Who was the person who was different at the end of the movie?
The answer is Thelma. She started out as a mealy housewife who had the fortitude of a Twinkie. At the end, she found strength and resolve. Louise’s personality didn’t really change. So it was Thelma’s story.
Another example, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Sure, the movie seemed to focus on that charming and funny Ferris. But did he change during the course of the movie? The answer is no, again. The movie really belonged to Cameron, Ferris’s friend. Cameron went from a kid afraid of his father and afraid of life to a young man who would stand up to his father and therefore, to life.
One more example, “The Shawshank Remptiomption.” Is it really Andy Dufresne’s movie? No siree. It is Red’s, who began the film as a man who dared not to hope and ended as a man who looked toward hope as he met his friend in Mexico.
Whenever I watch a movie or read a book where there is little, no, or God forbid, superficial change in the characters, I feel unsatisfied.
Not all change has to be for the good, nor does it have to be a lightning bolt from God. It can be subtle as silk. Take the recent movie, “The Ides of March” (and here comes the spoiler alert). Stephen Meyers, played by Ryan Gosling, works for a presidential candidate played by George Clooney, who also directed and co-wrote the movie. Stephen starts as a true believer in his candidate and loves being in the thick of the campaign. After learning a secret about the candidate and becoming a victim of dirty behind-the-scenes politics, Stephen also digs in the dirt to stay in the game. He changes for the worse by becoming the very thing he hates.
Of course, some characters are so iconic they don’t seem to or have to change, such as Sherlock Holmes. And there is much joy in watching them make sense of chaos. Still, I think about how much more depth to those stories if Sherlock had showed change. The game is afoot.
–Patricia Santos Marcantonio