Reply To: Exercise 3

Home Forums MASTERING CHARACTER ARCS Exercise 3 Reply To: Exercise 3


Hi, Joanna,

Self-actualization is at the top. In general, with Maslow’s hierarchy, higher levels are not accessible to people who do not have lower level satisfaction — which appears to be the case with your character. In addition, she appears to be assessed with self image and that appears to be bigger in her motivation than using all her talents, skills, and wisdom to the full. I’d add that her antisocial behavior (cheating, lying) does not seem to be in line with such an enlightened person. Yearning is not need. The dictionary says that yearning is an intense longing for something. By contrast, a need is for something that’s required and essential. I need to breathe. I need social connections. I need safety. I do not need to be an honored artist. Is the difference clear?

If Justyna is indeed such a rare creature (self-actualized), I apologize for missing that. When I studied Maslow, the teacher said Maslow himself did not imagine there were more than a couple of hundred self-actualized people on the planet. I believe Einstein and Albert Schweitzer were on his list. I can only think of one novel offhand which became a search for self-actualization, Siddhartha.

On Justyna’s reasons. It’s entirely possible that she would say that she cannot fulfill her dreams if she is forced to leave the US. Or that it’s important to stay with her friend Chris. For the first, stating that this is the land of dreams doesn’t say anything about her REAL reason for staying. Her reason would need to be that the only way to achieve a specific dream would be to stay in the US.

Furthermore, the reason would be attached to why that specific dream is essential to her. As an example, many American classical composers studied with a mentor in Paris. She was the gateway to opportunities. If you hadn’t learned her lessons, it was almost impossible in the US to get commissions to write classical music. You were, even if you worked on your own, cut off from the community of composers needed to develop skills and understand issues around composition. If Leonard Bernstein had not been allowed to travel to Paris, we wouldn’t have any of his classical compositions.

So the stakes for staying in a specific country need to be very high, especially if it’s tied to a dream.
I’m curious. Why is it that you refer to need arcs and want arcs? This course is about character arcs, and the rephrasing seems to be leading you astray. For characters, needs in a character arc are related to a flaw, usually a serious flaw. Jay appears to be a victim, but what’s his flaw? Is he a drunk? Stories that only deal with victims don’t need to have character arcs. Stories where characters don’t have any flaws, don’t have any character arcs. By the way, I just did a search across the lessons and exercises for this course, looking for “want arc” and “need arc.” Nothing found. Are you drawing on material from a different course?

Now they could be something interesting going on with Jay with regard to his lack of trust. He could be a basically decent person who needs to heal. That can make for a good story, but not but not for a strong character arc. (It’s often the case the character needs to heal and deal with a flaw. Witness is a great example of that.)

I don’t see any “must stay” reasons in the relationship with Chris, either. There certainly are high-stakes reasons for staying in the US because of a person. Remaining with the love of your life. Caring for a family member in fragile health. Making enough money to sustain family members outside the US.

Best friend? In this story, it appears that Chris was not the kind of friend she felt compelled to leave Poland for when he left. If I recall correctly, she has successfully lived without him for an extended period of time without a rupture to her sense of connection with others. She also has been out of contact with him to the point where she does not know that he is no longer practicing his art, which makes it seem like he’s not exactly her best friend as the expression is commonly used. She doesn’t find him in the US in dire straits, needing care. She seems to have calmed to the US thinking he could help her career, but not longing for his essential companionship. So, even though she might give this as a reason, it does appear to be an excuse.

Good news: I do suspect Justyna needs something and that hole in her life is related to growth. Minimally, I’d say she has a false idea of the value of an artistic life, but I also suspect she lacks true connection with others. And a sober view of her own value as a person. Pride, lack of respect for truth, and disregard for others are coming across. Those lead to bad choices and behaviors, and get in the way of needs.They promise a good character arc, but not if they aren’t (eventually) acknowledged and dealt with in the story. Of course, that requires some difficult storytelling.

More good news: A character arc is not necessary for this story. There’s a tale here that can be told in other ways. Many romances have no real character arcs, and people still love them. Characters people love like Ferris Bueller and James Bond and Mrs. Marple have no character arcs. This is a valid choice.


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