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Ottservia

Is character development overrated?

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Now don't misunderstand what I mean when I say overrated. Character development is an extremely effective narrative tool that can help create really compelling character arcs and conflicts to help drive the story forward. It's by no means bad. What I mean by overrated is that I feel like people overvalue it's use and throw it around as this be all end all of character writing without truly understanding why character development works in the first place. All story really needs is conflict to help explore its ideas and character development isn't the only way to create said conflict. I just generally feel like people are a little too dismissive of the vast number ways a story can be told or a character can be written. There are plenty of ways to write compelling characters without "character development" and I feel like those things should not be dismissed because they don't fit someone's short-sighted view of what character writing "should be". Anyway those are my thoughts. I wanna know what you guys think.

 

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I think alot of whether or not it's important depends on how the story is run at base. 

A much more lighthearted storyline doesnt need serious depth of character to be fun and happy. 

Sure, it's nice to have but being simple isnt always a bad thing in that equation either.

Character growth is very reliant on the story to guide it I think, so you also need to consider storyline in that as well.

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I don't think character development is overrated. Fictional characters are there to represent us as people. In real life, we all grow as people. We learn new things, figure out what's right and wrong, find our identity in the world, etc. It's the same way for fictional characters, even if some of them aren't necessarily human. Some might go down a path that would ultimately lead to their destruction, and that can be seen in the real world, too. And besides, you can't tell me it's not cool to see someone grow in their skill, intelligence, and/or strength. Growth is what defines people, even if it's good or bad.

Another thing is relatability. I think it's generally easier to relate to a character that we watch struggle and overcome that struggle because it's possible that someone watching that character is going through or has gone through something similar. It can also make the audience empathize or sympathize with that character (almost as if they were a real person, go figure).

None of this is to say that characters with established traits are bad or unrelatable. Laurent from Great Pretender (great anime, I highly recommend it) is easily my favorite character from the show, and he barely goes through any growth at all throughout the course of the season. Even though he doesn't grow, it's so much fun seeing how he handles certain situations. I think that's also the thrill of watching powerful, established characters make it through their challenges, even if we know that they're going to win regardless of the circumstances, because we want to know how they make it through those challenges, no matter how ridiculous or impossible it may seem. 

Of course, what I've said is a more focused view on character development, so it doesn't take into account how it can serve a story. However, character development and the plot usually work in tandem with each other. 

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I feel like if it was overrated, then that would imply we're being constantly inundated with stories that focus solely on character arcs to the detriment of everything else. And that's very...no? But to put some context to the question, the first thing that jumped to my mind is chosen one characters. People don't like the archetype, and often because they lack satisfying character growth. Chosen ones are the characters whose character development is the most shaky to point out. Characters who were not only born with the silver bullet, but were given their motivation by some kind of prophecy or by a mentor character that chiefly understands their gift. It would be much more compelling if your protagonist lived at the center of the world's strife, then awakened to their power after having a full understanding of why things need to change. Or if their special powers were earned through hard work rather than manifesting through something outside their control. But if your powers and motivation are delivered to you on day one of the story, there's no room to grow. The story may challenge the protagonist's determinations to do the right thing, but if they always succeed, that's not growth, it's just affirmation of pre-established character traits.

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No, 9 times out of 10 it's crucial to both character and story. There are times, though, where it isn't needed and you can make compelling things without. But, again, that's usually not the case.

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I think that a game should be more than just pure combat, right? Take fates for an example, the game play is stellar, Conquest is arguable the hardest game to play, however, Corrin as a MC just doesn't work. He/She arguably aren't a good main character due to the lack of the story writing, and the fact they have no specific character development. I wouldn't count choosing their side as character development. Also lets look at Three Houses, I think that Three Houses is a good game because of the character (excluding Byleth). All lords have their distinctive goals, which makes the story so much better, I guess that isn't really character development, however one Blue Lions route is filled with excellent character which really, in my opinion, make that route much better.

 

Edited by The Levin Sword
Grammar, taking out my own reason for edit (LOL)

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Well, in theory you can write narratives without character development. A great example of a media with little character development is The Road (talking the film). The Father in that film doesn't change very much, even when provided with opposition from the Son, because the world is so brutal that he cannot.

I think that the most important thing to discuss when thinking about the necessity of character development is considering your characters to be real people. Lay out who they are and what they believe in before getting too far in. Then, as the narrative progresses, you have to enter the shoes of those characters and ask yourself; "Does this challenge my beliefs/actions?" If whatever they encounter could change their perspective, you should address it and allow for it to change the character's view on the world and how they act in the future. If you are very careful about it, you can write a narrative where characters aren't necessarily forced into changing their beliefs or opinions.

A lot of the problems related to this is sidestepping character development when it should be necessary. Whenever a character follows their heart and acts in line with what they believe, there should often be consequences. When Dimitri finds out who was responsible for the death of his parents, when Chrom fails to prevent tragedy, when Corrin is forced to fight against his family, all of these events are profound and should trigger a shift in the way the characters act or think. The main reason for this change being demanded is that trauma changes people, and the point of fiction is in part to convince readers that imaginary people are real people. Thus, if a character experiences trauma, they should respond in some way, especially if they are at fault in their own perspective. The complaint of lacking character development comes into play most often when characters should experience trauma and should change their ways, but shrug off opposition and let the story continue without addressing their personal conflict.

In summary: As long as a character reacts normally to crisis, trauma, and consequences, they don't need to develop. Although, crisis, trauma, and consequences tend to change people under normal circumstances.

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Overrated? No. I disagree with the idea that lack of character development is inherently bad, you can tell a great story with minimal character development. Some characters just don't need development and might be mostly realized when the game starts; some people are not mostly realized.

 

tl;dr it's all about context

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First, I would contend that calling anything overrated is something that people should do less often, regardless of what they're talking about.

But no, I don't think character development is overrated. If anything, I'd say that characters in a story almost always benefit from receiving some development, even if it's minimal at best. Some characters need more, some need less than others, but I think it's something that will usually make the characters of a story more compelling overall.

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13 hours ago, The Royal Red said:

Well, in theory you can write narratives without character development. A great example of a media with little character development is The Road (talking the film). The Father in that film doesn't change very much, even when provided with opposition from the Son, because the world is so brutal that he cannot.

I think that the most important thing to discuss when thinking about the necessity of character development is considering your characters to be real people. Lay out who they are and what they believe in before getting too far in. Then, as the narrative progresses, you have to enter the shoes of those characters and ask yourself; "Does this challenge my beliefs/actions?" If whatever they encounter could change their perspective, you should address it and allow for it to change the character's view on the world and how they act in the future. If you are very careful about it, you can write a narrative where characters aren't necessarily forced into changing their beliefs or opinions.

A lot of the problems related to this is sidestepping character development when it should be necessary. Whenever a character follows their heart and acts in line with what they believe, there should often be consequences. When Dimitri finds out who was responsible for the death of his parents, when Chrom fails to prevent tragedy, when Corrin is forced to fight against his family, all of these events are profound and should trigger a shift in the way the characters act or think. The main reason for this change being demanded is that trauma changes people, and the point of fiction is in part to convince readers that imaginary people are real people. Thus, if a character experiences trauma, they should respond in some way, especially if they are at fault in their own perspective. The complaint of lacking character development comes into play most often when characters should experience trauma and should change their ways, but shrug off opposition and let the story continue without addressing their personal conflict.

In summary: As long as a character reacts normally to crisis, trauma, and consequences, they don't need to develop. Although, crisis, trauma, and consequences tend to change people under normal circumstances.

Now here is something I wholeheartedly agree with. Character development on its own is meaningless on its own. It’s what that development signifies in the greater context of the narrative as a whole is what gives it meaning and depth. I feel like people will just look at the surface level of “character development = good” and just call it a day when there is more to it than that. Characters are only abstractions of real people made to help get across a story’s ideas and messages. People are complicated and character development is only one of the many many ways for those characters to be written and portrayed. 

Edited by Ottservia

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Definitely not. Just as people change while experiencing life, the character must also change as he goes on his journey. This makes them more real, which in turn makes the reader more sympathetic to him. If you can make a static character work in a particular narrative, great, but characters like that tend to grow stale over time.

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5 minutes ago, Maof06 said:

Definitely not. Just as people change while experiencing life, the character must also change as he goes on his journey. This makes them more real, which in turn makes the reader more sympathetic to him. If you can make a static character work in a particular narrative, great, but characters like that tend to grow stale over time.

And it's there where you lose me. What exactly does it mean for a character to feel "real"? Characters are really only abstractions or reflections of real people meant to help get across a story's thematic point and drive home its ideas. I don't like this idea of praising stories for "feeling real" cause that praise feels a little empty to me. Story telling in it of itself is inherently unrealistic as every story no matter how grounded it is in reality still has to make concessions in that reality to get across it's ideas to the audience(Dialogue being the most prominent example of this). That said, every story does get at something in vocative of reality intentional or not because they are made by people who take ideas from the real world. To praise a story for being "realistic" just feels empty because every story or character should "feel real" in the sense that we should be able to understand the ideas behind it. That's the entire purpose of storytelling to get the audience to understand the ideas and messages behind it. "Character development" is not the only way to do that. It's an effective one definitely but not the only effective one. 

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I guess somewhat.

I don't think every story needs someone to change, especially in video games where some games are pretty light on story.

Granted, if something happens that really should warrant a change in some one's personality, it can be bad if they don't change at all and don't react appropriately to the situation.

Some of my favorite games are the Classic Tomb Raider game and Lara's character development for 4/6 games and 3/3 expansion packs is a straight Horizontal Line.

Even in "serious" works I don't think a character needs a drastic shift in character as long as it doesn't feel mishandled, character development is fun but a character staying static is only bad if it really doesn't make sense for them to do so/it actively harms the story.

Edited by Samz707

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I think when you play a game where your main character has no personality and doesnt grow, you realise how much you miss character growth.

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3 minutes ago, lightcosmo said:

I think when you play a game where your main character has no personality and doesnt grow, you realise how much you miss character growth.

 Yeah personality-less blank slates can be annoying. *Cough*Byleth*Cough*

But I think you can have a character with a personality who simply doesn't go through any drastic character development.

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2 minutes ago, Samz707 said:

 Yeah personality-less blank slates can be annoying. *Cough*Byleth*Cough*

But I think you can have a character with a personality who simply doesn't go through any drastic character development.

That, or when they have great character growth, then in later installments, just erase all of it and making them with no emotion or anything.

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2 hours ago, Ottservia said:

And it's there where you lose me. What exactly does it mean for a character to feel "real"?

The more a character acts like a real person, the more we can relate to him. That way, we can form an emotional connection with him and maybe see him as if he were our best friend, or dislike him if he reminds him of someone who does harm to others. This is subjective, I admit, but this is how I see it.

1 hour ago, Samz707 said:

I guess somewhat.

I don't think every story needs someone to change, especially in video games where some games are pretty light on story.

Granted, if something happens that really should warrant a change in some one's personality, it can be bad if they don't change at all and don't react appropriately to the situation.

Some of my favorite games are the Classic Tomb Raider game and Lara's character development for 4/6 games and 3/3 expansion packs is a straight Horizontal Line.

Even in "serious" works I don't think a character needs a drastic shift in character as long as it doesn't feel mishandled, character development is fun but a character staying static is only bad if it really doesn't make sense for them to do so/it actively harms the story.

You made a good point. While Lara's character is basically static throughout the classic games (from what you said, I never played them myself), the character and the storyline would have suffered if she were static in the reboot series.

A bit off topic here, but do you think I should take a look at the classic series? I think I can emulate them on my 3DS.

1 hour ago, lightcosmo said:

That, or when they have great character growth, then in later installments, just erase all of it and making them with no emotion or anything.

I'm having Dragon Ball Super flashbacks now.

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Yes and no. It depends on the story, as many others have said. For instance, Doom 2016/Eternal have minimal character development, but that's the point of the game. Gameplay first, story second. Whereas something like Fire Emblem relies on it's story as much as it does gameplay, or even more than in a couple cases, character development is a massive helping hand. You care a lot more for charcaters with in depth development than you do for charcaters you hardly know anything about.

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8 hours ago, Maof06 said:

The more a character acts like a real person, the more we can relate to him. That way, we can form an emotional connection with him and maybe see him as if he were our best friend, or dislike him if he reminds him of someone who does harm to others. This is subjective, I admit, but this is how I see it.

You made a good point. While Lara's character is basically static throughout the classic games (from what you said, I never played them myself), the character and the storyline would have suffered if she were static in the reboot series.

A bit off topic here, but do you think I should take a look at the classic series? I think I can emulate them on my 3DS.

I'm having Dragon Ball Super flashbacks now.

Wasn't aware you could emulate them on 3Ds but sure as I personally think they're very good. (Well for the most part, 3 has some unfair moments and Chronicles was pretty much made in a rush because of the publisher and it shows.)

You can also snag them on steam for about 99 Pence on Steam sales. (Emulation is probably the PS1 versions and the PC versions of TR1/2 have free downloadable expansion packs while Tomb Raider 3 is kind of unfairly difficult with some instant kill traps and you have infinite saving on the PC version of that one but limited saves with collectable save crystals that are way too rare on PS1.)

The PC version does have a slight issue in that all of the event music  (So say, a frantic bit of music when a boss showed up) was replaced with a single ambient track in every level though I know mods exist to bring the ps1 music back to the PC version.

Edited by Samz707

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Hmm. This is a weird topic to me. Like everyone's on the cusp of something but no one seems to have asked something that seems important. Are stories just for entertainment and observation? Or are people capable of learning something and developing themselves differently, for the worse or for the better, as a result of experiencing art and entertainment? If so, does examining character development in fiction provide "notable" help to people in managing their own development or even those of others?

That's probably a really complicated question in any context, especially when examining "humanity" over a very long period of time or in great numbers, but do you guys think you have been shaped or have to some extent shaped yourselves into better people as a result of fiction, stories, etc.?

It makes me think about Plato and The Republic - only in a really brief sense, I don't remember it very well - and about how much time I've spent on seemingly idle pursuits.

Even though I'm claiming this is an important question I'm not sure what my answer is. I actually think I'm abnormal enough that my answer wouldn't be representative to begin with.

I'll provide something that may be an answer from someone else and...I guess that means I'm cheating, and I won't do the full MLA:

Many children, early on, acquire a love of places they have never been. Often, such wonder is summarily crushed on the crawl through the sludge of murky, confused adolescences on to the flat, cracked pan of adulthood with its airless vistas ever lurking beyond the horizon. Oh, well, sometimes such gifts of curiosity, delight and adventure do indeed survive the stationary trek, said victims ending up as artists, scholars, inventors and other criminals bent on confounding the commonplace and the platitudes of peaceful living. But never mind them for now, since, for all their flailing subversions, nothing really ever changes unless in service to convenience.


From Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson, pg 530 of a hardcover of one of the editions.

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Just my 2 cents here: On the topic of real people having a development, I would like to point out that some real people don't change much. Most adults especially past thirty generally remain the same type of people. A good charming character can remain the same throughout a story and still be compelling.

Like many have said it depends a lot on the story itself and other factors.

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