Whenever I think about character arcs, I get this feeling of dread in my stomach. It’s about the breakdown, or destroying a character’s world. The best breakdown I’ve read has to be Emilio in The Sparrow. It is horrid, beautiful, and believable. If you’ve read the book, you know, but for those who haven’t, I’ll elaborate. When we first meet Emilio he is in a hospital, mutilated, traumatized, and half out of his head over the deaths of his only real friends. The author, Mary Doria Russell, then takes us back to the beginning of the story of Emilio, where he is a charming, if odd, Jesuit priest. He loves everyone, takes care of anyone, and most of the women are annoyed that he is … in the priesthood. Russell takes us on an incredible character journey that shows Emilio’s ascent to sainthood and fall into misery. I only once felt that the situations that push him along this arc was forced, and for the most part, I couldn’t believe how good she was at breaking the spirit of what appeared to be an indomitable soul.
So, that’s my guide. I like to think about whether or not my breakdown is as elegant as Emilio’s. Sometimes, I don’t feel I have the heart to do it, but flat characters are a real bore. It’s better to give them, the characters, immortality through the hardships, then to protect them and have them be flat. You know, I think there might be a life lesson in there.
Do you all have a breakdown benchmark?