What’s With The Obsession With “Character Development”? (Rant)

There are a lot of things critics will tend to point to as integral facets of making a good story. Three act structure, a resolute ending, believable characters etc. The list of these things is fairly long and isn’t universally applicable.

But one that gets brought up constantly is the idea of character development. Critics will complain often when there isn’t enough of it insisting that characters must grow and change over the course of a series. Okay, but why?

Before even answering that question you must know that “character development” can be an ill-defined and oft misused term (I’ve probably done so myself). I find it tends to be used to mean how a character grows and changes whereas it was originally meant to be more all encompassing meaning how the audience develops a connection to a character when the audience fills them with depth and personality. Not specifically change even though that can be part of it. I’ll be talking about the common usage here.

You want believable characters and also want them to change drastically, I’m sorry but most of the time those two things are mutually exclusive. In the real world people don’t tend to change very much in adulthood but in shows it’s taken as a given.

The only time I think that a majority people change drastically is in adolescence more specifically between the ages of 13 and 16. This is part of why many slice of life shows are set in high school the characters are so malleable because in reality their personalities are not fully formed. It’s this sweet spot of an age where ones personality is solid enough to make for a somewhat consistent and interesting character but still has room enough to change in significant ways.

So when shows with Adult characters get this criticism thrown their way I never quite understand it. Is it not interesting and consistent characters that grab our attention? Part of what makes characters so interesting to me is that I can imagine what they would do in any given situation because they are of course consistent

Then of course there’s the train of thought that characters must specifically “grow” and become better. This is even more ludicrous to me. In adulthood significant change tends to come from life shattering events and the change is rarely ever a good one. In Psycho-Pass for example Kogami becomes a much more cynical and twisted person after the death of his enforcer and friend Sasayama under gruesome circumstances. I get change like this it makes sense to me. And when a similar thing happens to Akane she just becomes even more resolute in her personality not letting it change her for the worse. What I wouldn’t get is a character going through that and coming out a “better” person.

I also feel that sometimes people get change confused with gradual relation. Let’s take Uraraka from My Hero Academia. In one episode we find out that the reason that she wants to become a hero is to make enough money to support her family. Uraraka of course has not changed, this has been her motivation from the start but even so I’ve seen this praised as growth of her character.

At the end of the day this whole idea is a confusing mess. The use of the term has been skewed in a way that makes it confusing when used analytically. And specifically the idea that a character growing or changing is needed for a show to be good or is somehow more nuanced when it’s included does not sit well with me. If your best friend became a different sort of person tomorrow would you still be friends with them? Who know your relationship would certainly change though. You’re friends with them because you like who they are so if who they are changes so does your relationship.

I don’t even know at this point, ranting takes it out of me.

Thanks for reading,

Psychime

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12 Comments

  1. For me, character development is defined by allowing a character to express certain aspects of themselves in order to seem more human. The idea of growth and change depends on the circumstances surrounding the plot’s whims. One shouldn’t expect change with most slice-of-life’s or comedies. Drama, on the other hand, becomes a little more reliant of this.

    Though personally, development for me consists of a character showing they’re either,

    A: Not a male harem lead.

    or

    B: More than a single personality.

    I think a good example of this is with Demi-chan, where characters are typically within their single-personalities, but are allowed to express themselves in other lights depending on various situations. Hikari is not JUST an excitable goof, but a pure and docile girl. Yuki appears as a standard dandere due to her cold nature, but eventual becomes a character who’s slightly sarcastic in her own musings. It’s not the perfect pinnacle of development, but it did enough for me to feel the characters were real within the environment that the anime created.

    This is also why I don’t typically enjoy standard romcoms or SoL’s.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. You definitely raise a few valid points. A movie, anime or tv series can be enjoyable without characters undergoing any kind of development.
    However if characters are pretty one dimensional, with little to no background, or progress at all ( in short being very boring lol), I find it pretty hard to grow attached to them, or caring what happens to them. That’s why I always like it when characters at least have a little bit of meat to them (so to speak), in order for me to enjoy them more. Character development can be a great tool for this. I love it for instance when the shy guy or girl, turns into the hero for the story, and manages to save the day.
    Great post this one! 😊

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I definitely see character development more as the audience developing a connection with them over time. Natsume Yuujinchou has great character development. Not because Natsume changes that much (there is some growth as he is a teenager dealing with things and making connections and friends) but because we learn more about who he is and why he is that way. The same with the support cast. Most of them aren’t changing much but how we see them and what we understand about them continues to change and grow.
    Not that I’m opposed to characters who actually go through a change either, but it has to be a logical response to what is happening in the story. Growth for the sake of it or change for the sake of it doesn’t really appeal.
    Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I get it when it’s used in that sense. I think that new details reveled about characters should inform their past decisions and be consistent. And if characters do change I want to see that realisticly affect their relationships, a good example would be Ginoza and Kogami from Psycho-Pass. They’re partners and friends but then Kogami changes and it damages that relationship greatly.

      We shouldn’t only be informed about a character at the very start of a show but that does not mean they as a person has to change during it’s run, just reveal them at a reasonable pace.

      And thank you for sharing too!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s hard to explain why character development is important… I don’t even really know where to start, but I think it ties into making the characters more relatable to the viewer. Nobody likes Mary-sues… Nobody likes characters who are perfect and are never wrong about anything, because they don’t feel real. They feel like a lie, which we can ignore if the material surrounding them is strong enough to entertain us either way, but it still winds up feeling shallow to those seeking more out of their media.

    This is why characters have flaws… They need to face conflicts from inside themselves as well as outside themselves, and if we’re watching a flawed character, we want to see them grow. We don’t necessarily want to see them become perfect, if we did we’d want them to be that way from the start, but we do want them to face their own weaknesses, so they can either overcome them or learn to accept them. If they believe something childish or ignorant, we want to see their beliefs be challenged, so they can break through their barriers and create memorable, emotional moments as a result.

    Think of it like this… A character in any position in a story, whether they’re the main character, the villain, or just a stock character, must want something. Would you prefer to see it handed to them, or would you prefer to see them struggle for it, so it means more to them when they finally obtain it, and it also winds up meaning more to you when you think back on everything they went through for it? If you picked the latter, then you at least somewhat value character development.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can see your point. I would think that achieving ones goals shouldn’t necessarily change the character in question but that’s me.

      Now the problem for me would be if you said a series had to have character development to be good (which I have seen on many an occasion.

      Love your name btw, one of the best blog names I’ve seen.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Why thank you.

    Honestly, in my opinion, there’s no individual element that a story can’t be good without. Bad or non-existant character development can count against a story, but it can still be good and enjoyable based on it’s other elements. It just won’t be as good as it COULD be.

    Like

  6. A bit of a ramble, but here I go…

    Personally, I don’t value “character development” per se, but rather, forcing characters into making difficult decisions which then heavily influence the story or the audience’s perception of them. The character doesn’t necessarily need to change but they will have to deal the consequences of whatever decision they make, which I guess gives them more depth.

    To use the same example from Psycho-Pass, Kogami and Akane’s most prominent developments both stem from the (different) decisions they made in response to Makishima killing their closest friends.

    An even better example would be in the Dark Knightwhen Batman chooses to save Rachel instead of Harvey.

    Seeing a character struggle under pressure sort of makes you want to root for them and at the same time, their final decision will further define the character and their beliefs.

    Like

  7. I think a good example of what you’re looking for in character development would be Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z. His transformation from a ruthless, arrogant, narcissistic killing machine in the beginning of the series to what he is now was executed very well.

    Like

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