Personal editing. Professional results.

Stories don't insist on transformations

October 9, 2021
Posted by:
Ron Seybold

The work of the professional author is revision. But there’s one book aspect that doesn’t insist on changes: the story’s outcome. Many of us prefer a story where the transformation is the reward for the suffering that we like to savor. On a recent episode of Fresh Air, film buff Eddie Muller says of his favorite movies, “It sure is fun watching people fail.”

Failures are moments of learning, and the lessons make us better. But if a character is stout and noble, protecting a code, they’re a steadfast character. Transformation is our favorite kind of story. Also entertaining: the steadfast character's story. They defend a code, suffer, and maintain their (sometimes noble) mission. Muller’s forte is film noir, like the early Robert Mitchum movies. We see a modern steadfast character in Blade Runner's Decker. We see antiheroes that rose up in American screenwriting after World War II.

Suffering is important to every story. Without suffering, it’s harder to see the meaning of life’s most crucial events. Suffering is especially important to steadfast stories. When Mitchum gets beat up, or Harrison Ford’s heart is broken, we see their strength and their discipline put to the test. Steadfast characters excel at survival. When your darkest character is your hero, you’re often on the way to withstanding disasters.

Defenses versus changes

Perhaps three stories out of every four show us transformation. All of my books travel the transformation path. A pandemic forces change in how health paves the way to love. A boy and his divorced father discover their affection on a trip with a perfect ballgame. In the era when the Rust Belt sparkles, a wronged woman stands up to inequity to become a reformer and suffragist.

In the right hands, though, a steadfast story satisfies us with its defense against change. If we can make the code of conduct clear, it seems worth protecting at any cost. Even when there’s damage being done, if the code is arresting enough, we’ll enjoy heist movies or gangster dramas like Fargo. We crave an antihero's devotion and love a character as much for trying as succeeding.

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