goblin macBeth, character arcs, and theme

Goblin MacBeth had made some changes to the text. Some of it had to be for time — there was no real need for Malcolm to go into his whole “I’m going to be a worse king than MacBeth!” speech since Malcolm psychs the whole thing as soon as he finishes. It’s just a distraction.

But instead of losing Lady MacBeth’s famous line about spots, they give the physical manifestation of guilt she suffers with to her husband. The line would have made perfect sense if they’d given it to him after Duncan’s death. To give it to him in the third act, though, shows he’s still the reflective character he was at the start of the play who would have called the murders off if he hadn’t been persuaded not to.

MacBeth in the third act firmly believes that while the results of his murdering have been a bit of a mixed bag, he just needs to do more of it until he gets the outcome he wants. Whereas the single decision to kill the king had destroyed his wife’s mental wellness, MacBeth has since murdered his best friend, a fellow thane’s entire family down to the chickens and servants and he barely paused when told his wife had just killed herself. He’s not going to be sitting by, idly wondering how to wash off physical manifestations while his castle is surrounded by the armies of the people whose loved ones he’s slaughtered.

I’ve been thinking a lot about character arcs of late. In my WIR, I had a character who organically showed up on the first day of shooting and was fully formed in his backstory, desires, intentions and fears. There was nothing to construct. He was complete down to his thematic tension.

The other character, on the other hand, was just a construction. He had to be the 7th grandfather of the character in the completed second book and the 9th grandfather of the character in the third book as the progenitor of his line. He needed to have a ship and enough power that the English treated him as a near-peer, but not as a citizen of their corporate world. And that was all I knew.

I completed the first draft without the constructed character ever really having that moment where he came into his own. While the first character delivered the emotional payout of the story, the test the constructed character went through never really exceeded his ability to handle things.

It was a concern I had going into this rewrite. It took four months, but I found that thing that makes the constructed character as valuable to the story on a thematic level as the emotional story being told through the organic character’s growth.

The existing method of teaching creative writing seems to exist only for those worlds, characters or thematic exploration that emerges from the author fully formed. The skills necessary to take a half-baked idea and make the toothpick comes out clean in the rewrite is where craft enters the writing process.

Stories that engage the reader should not have to emerge perfectly the first time. But we’ve lost the understanding of the importance of how the craft of writing makes structural changes necessary for a constructed plot, character or world to feel organic to the reader by the end of the last rewrite. It hasn’t just been lost to the ages, it’s been willingly abandoned.

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