Glow in the dark
There are going to be a fair bit of spoilers for these titles:
Parks and Recreation, the TV show: major spoilers
Super Mario RPG: Major spoilers
Marvel Cinematic Universe Infinity Saga: Major spoilers
Final Fantasy VIII: First 13 hours spoilers
Although I spoil things, I am still purposely very vague. This doesn’t mean they aren’t spoilery though, so be warned.
Long article time!
Character development works in the same way that people develop. Whether you like it or not, that’s how some of the best character development works. And a more turbulent thing that is also true is that it is almost always cheesy. It’s the cheesy stuff that are the real lessons in life. When writing character development, it’s important to recognize how and when paradigm shifts in perspective happen. And we can also, again, skeletonize it to cheesy things, but we’re going to keep it at a complicated level for the sake of showing the individuality of developments.
First I’m going to establish the basic point that my title has made. There is no status quo. Characters are like glow sticks, they won’t really shine until you break them. In Parks and Recreation the character Andy has one of the best developments because the events that happen to him actually change and cause him to grow. It’s very simple and logical stuff. Most people know that, but actually having that implemented is a different thing. He actually does change as his love for April grows. He really does learn from his time at community college. He really does start finding footing for where he feels comfortable in his place in society. These things are actually happening to him and the show acts like it. This doesn’t mean he can’t be the same goofy character, but it means that he will not return to the original goofy character before. You cannot return to the status quo, else it seems like nothing significant happened at all.
This happens in all sorts of TV shows where things return completely to normal. I’m not saying that this is bad, because it fits some shows very well that things always return to normal. Sometimes these kinds of series will do major shifts to show that something has changed. This can be something that happens at the end of a season or in preparation for a change of casting. Super Mario RPG’s Mallow has an identity crisis because he thinks he is a frog. I’m…pretty sure we all can recognize that he is totally not. Some character developments happen in drastic shifts like this. This happens in real life as well, so it makes sense.
What’s interesting about Mallow’s shift is that he doesn’t really change much, except for his self-confidence, which was an issue for a while. He doesn’t really mind that he thought he was a frog this whole time. The big shift wasn’t the fact that he was having an identity crisis, but rather that he needed to come to terms with how he feels about himself. These aren’t huge lines in the story by the way. Mallow doesn’t always talk about this, but it feels significant enough.
Here’s one that I have thought a lot about from the Infinity Saga in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, specifically Thor. Thor’s development is mostly about who he believes he is and his worthiness. He goes through a lot of this and it develops on itself multiple times. In Thor: Ragnarok, he really comes to terms with himself after his father’s “passing”. Now normally this is it. But after his failure to kill Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, he actually returns to what he was previously where he didn’t believe in himself. This is not a return to the status quo. This is usually only obtainable through story writing that is extended over time. I think this is a rare opportunity to recognize how some people struggle to change over time. He had such a big revelation in Thor: Ragnarok and now he is back to where he was before because of yet another shift. This new development is no longer about coming to terms with himself, it is about the failure of doing so in a difficult time. I love the writing of this because sometimes we have big life events happen to us and when it gets hard we do fall back down and we do struggle.
Lastly, Final Fantasy VIII. Just to be clear, this isn’t a comprehensive list of all the different kinds of development. Final Fantasy VIII just happens to be the final one on this list. I love Final Fantasy to death, so maybe I’m a bit biased. I haven’t finished VIII yet, so this is just what I know so far from the game. I’ve played 13-ish hours.
Most of the game’s characters are teenagers, and I think it’s a very good opportunity to talk about the small world of the mind. There are a lot of times where the main character, Squall, says some really angsty stuff. Same with Rinoa. There are tons of times where you could ask why the world they make the choices they make or how something they said was ridiculous or immature, but that’s just it. They’re teenagers. I think one of the more difficult parts of writing is not only understanding how much your character’s know, but also how much they can interpret. When Squall is threatened by death he does the most teenager thing and runs away. I’m not saying all teeangers do this, but it’s been established that he is an angsty teen, so what he is doing is in line with that. He is so determined to not be something left in the past because someone he is close with may have died.
Having death hit you at such a young age affects you differently than if you were older. This whole time Squall has set up a tough exterior, but it really breaks when he just runs. His paradigm has shifted, and he has to come to terms with it. This doesn’t fully absolve itself immediately though, which I like. Rinoa also goes through a series of similar rash actions where she wants to try and suppress the evil Sorceress on her own. This seems so foolish, but remember that her world consists of living in rebellion. She has been fighting government oppression her whole life and her relationship with her father is not great. This is what her world consists of: fighting back, no matter how small you feel. When she fails to suppress the Sorceress, she nearly dies.
Squall and Rinoa both argue over how serious these missions are taken. This back and forth starts pretty early on. Both Squall and Rinoa’s growth intertwine when Rinoa realizes just how dangerous all of this is and Squall feels what the fear of death is like in someone else as Rinoa literally clings to him. This is further emphasized when he sees how scared Irvine is moments later. Their small worlds grow larger with every shift. He is changing how he feels about death, his mission, and what to do. You see this in how he tells Irvine that it’s going to be okay, no matter the results.
Remember when I said Squall hated that idea of death? Well, at this point some time later, he fights the Sorceress for the sake of the people and …dies. Now hold on, this is where I’m at in the story. So, very likely he’s not actually dead, but the action of this is significant, because now his paradigm has completely shifted. He has voluntarily given his life for the sake of the people. The world of his mind has grown. He is no longer Squall as he was…however many hours ago in the game. Unfortunately, for the sake of story he is likely still alive, so that status quo is probably still here. I…I can’t say for sure. I’m excited to see what happens next.
Not all teenagers and people will develop like this. That’s fine. But each has their own views and shifts. Squall’s tough exterior has been well established by this point, but it is so fluid in his change over time. His is not an immediate change, and that’s why I really like his development so far. His “death” could also be just his desire to fulfill objectives for his organization, but he ran away last time. He literally ran, and now he died.
Maybe I’m getting this all totally wrong. I could totally, totally be getting all of this wrong. But I’m still very happy with how they show the perspective of the small worlds Squall and Rinoa both live in. It’s easiest to see these kinds of things in the main character who starts in humble beginnings, except it’s usually more literal in that the world they fight for gets bigger and bigger as you explore more places. But for what I can see in Squall and Rinoa right now, is the change in the mind, and I really, really like that.
Why is this so important to me? I mean, other than good character development, this helps me recognize people’s perspectives and how they see the world. To be less at conflict with others, I need to be more understanding of their perspectives and what their mind-world’s look like. What I look like in their world.
Things are not always black and white, and seeing character growth like this is a good way to better understand how some people might make bad decisions when they’re just trying to be good people.
Thanks for reading, I’ll see you next time.