On Progression In Story

Story progression can be in any form. Either a shift in the character, a development in them. This is important as characters can be thrown into a wide variety of situations. 

But the only thing that would keep things refreshing would be the situation each, the character is in and how they react to them. And whether they had learned something from them.

A story with no progression is a story where the events which happen are entirely unrelated.

The main character is the spectator as they have no importance to their main story. It always feels nice to have this outsider decide to help, something that is unrelated to them. As those outside the problem must have the clearest view. Sure it is the case, but what does the main character feels about his/her situation?

All you’re doing is ensuring that your main character would be treated as a video camera to show the real story. And that is a very very poor thing.

The main character needs to be at the center of their story. 

They need to experience hardships, obstacles. But most importantly they must have a goal. For a story at the above, it means that the main character’s goal doesn’t feel compelling or even realistic. It feels contrived, and sometimes even suggesting that they simply have nothing better to do. 

One prime example for me would be the Warcross duology by Marie Lu, where the main character is effectively the video camera. Obsessed with finding answers in something that she was removed from and something which she had no stake in. That got me into a situation where I was busy questioning just what was the point of Emika doing so much. Even as Warcross would never really feel the pinch as badly as the sequel Wildcard did. 

That is a really bad way to motivate your characters. Or even to find ways to justify it. Progression in the story is not about the change of events, but the reaction the characters have when they have those changes. How it defines what kind of person they are.

Even as I realized I did it unconsciously, making each character have their own personal motivation. Regardless of how trivial it would seem, I didn’t care it looked edgy or cool.

To me what mattered more was what this motivation meant to them.

Thus, why I created my main character Kazuho for Within A Grey Twilight to have a pretty simple but baffling motivation. All he wants to do is find a girl. But she is his childhood friend and he owes a great debt to her. The real mystery is why does he owe her, and the circumstances surrounding him. And the reason why he embarked on this, and his past.

It isn’t a lofty goal or some amazing ambition. But that’s just how my story rolled. It wanted to be something more quiet, more intimate and then I started building the plot around the motives of other characters. Who did a pretty good job of making his life harder and easier simultaneously. 

Another example which would influence me heavily would be Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist. He has a primary goal, this goal would never ever change even as he was thrown into battle with immortal beings. But he just wanted one thing: becoming normal again. He has his own reasons, and it is the one thing that keeps him from sinking into despair.

And that still laid at the center of the story. Sure it got derailed, but he had every reason to do so. And the core motivation never changed.

So, in a nutshell, find your main character’s core motivation 

Progression has to relate more to the characters than the plot. It is to show how they have grown, learned and eventually moved on. But the main story must be relevant to its main characters. Otherwise they can be relegated as a side character with no issue whatsoever.