E28 | Books| Character Arcs, Flexible Power and Fluid Morality



Sudden changes, like losing a hand, or slow fades, like slowly becoming a drug lord, can all factor into how characters morph throughout their lives. In this episode we dive into what character arcs are and how they can affect the story - for good or for bad. Before all that we get to learn about whiskey and what we have been reading recently! So kick back, put aside the Death Note for a bit, and get ready to learn about how characters evolve throughout a story! Cheers

What's on our Flight (01:33)

We are sharing a whiskey tonight, due to our abundance of affection for one another and excellent forethought. Michter's US No. 1 Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon. A trusted brand seated solidly in the mid-tier with the "US No. 1" line of whiskeys. The bourbon comes across with black cherry and cola in the nose, followed by a black coffee and toffee body with standard oak finishes. The reason we chose this whiskey is to highlight the advantages of small batch whiskeys, which we discuss below! 3 cheers from both of us.

What's On Our Minds (01:33 - Flights and Mind Blended this Episode)

Dalton: Small Batch vs. Single Barrel Whiskeys

While common to see on the labels of American whiskeys, "Small Batch" is not formally defined by the FDA. For many distilleries, it means the whiskey was made by blending 10-25 batches of whiskey to achieve a uniform flavor profile while leaving slight room for variance compared to the hundreds of batches blended by the large flagship whiskeys (Jim Bean, Evan Williams, etc.). Barrels are often hand picked and curated by the distillers to achieve consistent quality with fewer batches. Small batch is a strong indication of a mid-tier whiskey, often with 6-12 years of aging. Elijah Craig, Knob Creek, Four Roses, and Michter's are all examples of strong small batch whiskeys.


As the name implies, "Single Barrel" whiskeys are bottled from a single barrel, often one that has had extensive individual care and attention payed to it, making them more artisanal and valuable. They are often a specific expression desired by the distiller and are more uniquely crafted in flavor profile. This label is often an indication of a top-tier whiskey, though many distilleries capitalize on the branding to sell lower quality whiskey at a higher price. A single barrel worth its salt will typically list the age of the whiskey as a selling point, so look for an age statement to support a purchase. As many novice connoisseurs will not be able to distinguish the subtleties of expensive single barrel whiskey, we recommend moving through small batch whiskies first and rewarding yourself with an expensive single barrel in moderation.


Nelson: Stormlight Archives

Recently finished Rhythm of War by Brandon Sanderson, the fourth book in the Stormlight Archives series. Having previously complained about the slow pacing in the last half of the book, Nelson was rewarded with an extremely fast paced finale to the book that was difficult to digest. He plans to re-listen to the last couple of chapters to fully understand it. In conjunction, Sanderson has also released Dawnshard, a novella keeping with Sanderson's pattern of telling stories of side characters through additional publications. The book is only available by ebook and will be next on Nelson's list to read!


As a note, we are also starting a book club hosted via our Discord in preparation for the upcoming Book Analysis episode covering Red Rising by Pierce Brown (releasing April 8th, 2021). Join us if you are interested in discussing!

Discussion starts at 22:44 in the episode


Where Story Arc is the process of change in a story, Character Arc shows how a character develops and changes through the story. We discussed Character Development pretty thoroughly in the Hero and Villain episodes, and Story Arc heavily in a dedicated episode. This discussion of Character Arcs is meant to fill the gaps between these topics to highlight how characters blend with the change unfolding in a story.


Elements of Character Arcs

It's easiest to think of change as positive and negative movement of a character along a couple of key spectrums. First, a character can change in power. This includes things like strength, proficiency, skill, access to abilities, etc. We often describe a character's growth in power as their power arc. This is especially true in shonen-type anime, which feature very strong power arcs for their characters. Kip from Lightbringer, Aang in Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Vin from Mistborn are all heroes that exhibit strong power arcs in their stories. Villains can (and often do) exhibit power arcs as well. Voldemort is an excellent example of a villain character who grows in strength throughout the story. These power arcs allow their stories to have a feeling of "ramping up," of excitement and building consequences as the characters play for stakes on an ever increasing scale.


On the other side of the spectrum, characters who move negatively on the power scale can disrupt the status quo and alter the course of a story. This is hard to discuss without spoiling, but Lightbringer and Song of Ice and Fire both have excellent examples of characters that exhibit an abrupt negative power arc. In both cases, the characters are forced to reevaluate the decisions and actions which brought them to this "low point" and reinvent themselves to rise out of it, significantly altering the course of the story and the interactions of those characters with other events in the story. Frodo, the Little Hobbit Who Could, is an example of a degrading power arc as his strength fades as the story progresses, making him more desperate, unpredictable, and susceptible to manipulations. Negative power arcs allow authors to break the assumptions and expectations of the reader and force characters in to situations they otherwise would never encounter.


We also thoroughly discuss changes in a character's morality. This is a favorite of ours, as it allows writers to blur the lines between heroes and villains. Nelson's all-time favorite character, Anakin Skywalker, is a perfect example. The small steps Anakin takes, especially highlighted by The Clone Wars series, make his descent to Sith believable and relatable. Light Yagami from Death Note is another great example, as essentially the entire series is written to tell the story of his descent in to amorality as a result of his newfound powers. Villains who fight against their own lack of morality can create some of our favorite character arcs. Zuko in Avatar: The Last Airbender and Jaime Lannister in Song of Ice and Fire (noticing a trend yet with these two series?) are masterful implementations of villains who begin to question their morality and make us yearn for their redemption.


Finally, and probably the least discussed in the episode, a Character Arc can take a character through self-actualization (the realization of one's full potential). We reference the changes in Tony Stark and Steve Rogers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as they learn to live with and take advantage of their strengths and weaknesses, rather than fighting them. Tony goes from a fully selfish person, through someone scared of his own power and ability, to being willing to make an ultimate sacrifice. Cap takes his unyielding, detrimental self-sacrifice, to a hurting others with self-centered decisions, and finally ending with a moment that is self-interested, but only after his job is finally done. Edward from Full Metal Alchemist also goes through an arc of self-actualization, fighting to reconcile his abilities and traumas to build a life he is proud to be in. Self-actualization is especially powerful when the author has the ability to develop a character over a long span of story telling.


Thank you for listening through this analysis of Character Arcs! We always enjoy any excuse to talk about our favorite characters. We look forward to reading and discussing Red Rising with you!


Cheers!


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