What if characters didn't arc, but exploded into mirrors of their probable possibilities?
There are many ways to develop a character, the most accepted, through the heroic arc, where the protagonist journeys and experiences events, people and obstacles. Thus, the protagonist grows. Another way is through stunted fermentation, where the character has grown and is at a frustrating impasse that is never overcome. Finally, there is distributive characterization, a method I use in my ribald comic novel Cutting the Cheese.
In Cutting the Cheese, the protagonist is a newly emerging gay man, Luke Oliver, still clinging to his ideals and somewhat fearful of every step he takes. He is thrust (self-thrusted) into a frolicsome gay envionment where various stages of his possible future development are portrayed by other characters. There is the over-the-top hustler, the pedantic, ambitious playwright, the snobby child psychologist, the nosey busy body, the wealthy sugar daddy, the jousting couple, the nubile gym bunny and the old, jaded queen. Call it the seven ages of gay men, if you will, but the hierarchy of possibility that stretches before Luke Oliver’s feet are like the doors of Bluebeard’s Castle. Luke is alive to them all. That he flees the scene (and not in terror) and survives by dint of his ideals (and the gym bunny), never precludes that he still might become a cloying playwright or steel tushied old art dealer. The only character that he could never become is the bulldog lesbian that drapes herself in cellophane and storms down the spiral staircase. (See previous post : The Case of Bambi Stern).
Distributive characterization does deprive some characters of their anticipated arc, but since they are possibilities and not final realities, it’s an acceptable literary gamble. It also serves comedy better than high drama, because comedy is as ethereal as life, while drama pounds the square pegs into round holes and disregards the sawdust. In fact, Cutting the Cheese, the dicing of sharp-cheddar into distributive pieces is just the thing for tickling the funny bone. It’s not until the cheese platter is dumped into the trashcan that the air clears for serious probing.
Edward C. Patterson