Seasons and Seasons of Character Arcs

There is something really unique about telling stories through television.

I love all types of storytelling. I really do.

But I am a television junkie.

There is something captivating about tuning in to see what happens to the characters you’ve grown to love (or hate) each week.

Television never fails to mess with my emotions. I’ve never been calm watching an episode of Bates Motel, Empire, or Game of Thrones. I get all nervous and jittery when I sit down to watch.

It’s thrilling to think “Oh, gee, I wonder what’s gonna happen this episode. I wonder if this character is gonna turn bad. I hope not. I really love them. Nah, they can’t turn bad. It’s impossible. It’ll be fine. It’ll be okay.” And then I watch the whole episode on the edge of my seat, taking deep breaths and biting my nails.

But one of the aspects of television that really sets it apart is its ability for the audience to really know the characters they see on the screen.

Television is the one medium where you really get to delve into what makes characters so good or so bad or so somewhere in between. It’s why everyone fell in love with Mulder and Scully from The X Files. We got to watch a believer and a skeptic shape each other’s lives. Or why Rachel, Monica, Pheobe, Chandler, Ross, and Joey warmed our hearts with their friendship in Friends. Or even why we feel such a connection to Meredith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy.

Television allows the audience to get a real idea of who these characters are. We get to see them live their lives in their homes and at their jobs. We get to see them do what we do-- struggle.

Sometimes -- in other medias -- I feel I don’t get to spend enough time with characters. I feel that the characters arc too fast, or that they don’t experience enough change and personal growth to satisfy my needs.

I don’t want my characters to arc easily. I want to see my characters struggle.

I want to see my favorite characters do some really nasty stuff. I want to be on the verge of not caring about them anymore, and, then come the season finale, they make a good decision that pulls me right back in.

I also want to see the villains do horrible things, and then, most importantly, I want to see why they do these things.

This is where television thrives.

We are blessed with a cast of characters, and they can be doing anything. They can be pushing paper at an office, or cooking meth in an RV, or battling for a record company. They can be doing anything at all, and we still root for the characters we love and boo the characters we hate.

It’s a beautiful cycle.

It’s gripping to know that each week, a show can take a totally different twist that you never anticipated. That ecstasy is what is so fascinating about television.

The story is constantly evolving. And it’s constantly forcing the writers to think, “Okay, so we’ve already done this to our characters… What can we do next?” It forces writers to think outside the box and push the limits of the show and of television itself. It’s brilliant.

Television opens the door for real change in characters. Sure, in movies, books, games, etc, the main character encounters a conflict, overcomes it (or doesn’t), and learns some kind of theme. That’s basically it.

But in a television series, we’re not working with 90-120 pages for a screenplay. We’re talking about small scenes that add up to a huge change in the character in the end.

That’s what makes my heart so happy.

We’re not working on resolving one conflict. We’re exploring a character’s problems as a whole and addressing all of them individually over the span of at least several years.

The television industry is constantly evolving and adapting to provide quality entertainment, and, in the coming years, I think it’s safe to say that we’ll encounter stories and characters that will both touch and break our hearts.

All we have to do is stay tuned.

Let us know some of your favorite TV shows and characters in the comments below.

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