Craft Your Own Character Arc
Becoming Effective Characters
Trained to write professionally, it is impossible not to observe parallels between life and fiction, real people and fictional characters. Of course, the paradox is that we can often know fictional characters more intimately than even our closest friends or family members. This is due to the fact that the author has the power to reveal the characters’ thoughts to us.
And we are all indeed the main characters in our own stories. That said, it sometimes proves difficult to remember this about the others around us. This is particularly the case when someone, in some manner, opposes us. It’s always their fault, right? (An example of the self-serving bias.)
However, screenwriter John Rogers encourages us to view it from the other’s perspective: “You don’t really understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s a protagonist in his own version of the world.” When we engage in this sort of thinking everyone benefits. becoming more effective as others feel appreciated. Furthermore, think of all the needless battles we will have avoided.
Acceptance & Growth
Lastly, we might imagine ourselves as the author of our own story. If we want the main character to develop—to become an improved person—we must create obstacles for her. If in contrast, she spends all her nights sitting comfortably on the couch, she will remain the same person. In both fiction and films, the character often has to face what she dreads most.
In my case, I narrowly survived a car accident that left my left-side paralyzed. If I wanted to regain full movement and relearn to walk, I need to develop a positive mindset and view the obstacles as opportunities to grow. At one point, I even asked people to start referring to me as Jim B instead of James. James died, but the new and improved Jim was ready to rise to the challenge of TBI Recovery.
And, when we experience trauma in real life, there is this very real possibility to grow as a person. This is referred to as post-traumatic growth (PTG). Developed by researchers Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, PTG aims to explain the potential of trauma survivors to experience growth. Tedeschi explains it using the metaphor of an earthquake (trauma) and a building (survivor): “But if the building suffers damage, it has to be rebuilt and the rebuilding is the growth” (qtd in Rendon 18).
And this view can definitely be coupled with the Stoic concept amor fati, or 'love of fate,' by which we accept what challenges life presents us with, no? As the philosopher Epictetus put it, "Don't ask for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will--then your life will flow well" (qtd in Holiday 326). As Robert Greene pointed out in his interview by Ryan Holiday, however, we don't necessarily truly love what happens to us, but rather accept it. He offered the stroke he had last year as an example.(a stroke he attributes in part due to overexerting himself writing his most recent book).
In the final analysis, we must embrace the obstacles we encounter in life. In contrast, wishing things were different or living in denial is counterproductive. We must, in fact, recognize the potential in such challenges. As rapper 50 Cent puts it, “Every negative is a positive. The bad things that happen to me, I somehow make them good. That means you can’t do anything to hurt me.”
And, 50 Cent isn’t just talking theoretically here, as he demonstrated this philosophy after getting shot nine times and leveraging the traumatic experience to build a rap career and business empire. And this philosophy is also aligned with the Stoic concept of amor fati, or ‘love of fate.’ However, as Greene explained in his interview by Ryan Holiday, this doesn’t mean we love everything that happens to us. He cited his own stroke as an example of something he certainly doesn’t love that happened. Nevertheless, acceptance is necessary.
As for 50, he specifically chose, for instance, not to get speech therapy. He wanted his listeners to hear his lisp, reminding them he got shot all those times and survived. How will you respond to the challenges in your life? Will you overcome them and be an inspiration to others going through the same struggle? Or will you be the type of person who complains or gives up? The choice is yours.
50 Cent & Robert Greene. 50th Law. New York: HarperStudio, 2009. Print.
Holiday, Ryan. The Daily Stoic. London: Profile Books, 2016, Print.
Rendon, Jim. Upside: The New Science of Post-Traumatic Growth.
New York: Touchstone, 2015. Print.
Rogers, John. Goodreads.