CB: It’s a very complicated, complex problem. No. The character does not need to change. But if the character doesn’t change, then the situation has to. You’ve read philosophy, and if you look at Aristotle’s Poetics, you see that one of the ideas that Aristotle has on dramatic shape and structure is that there has to be some alteration in the situation of the story. Now, you could have a character who is quite rigid and doesn’t change, or doesn’t want to change, and is brought down, or maybe even elevated by his or her refusal to change.
But I think when you’re talking about rules, you’re talking about rules of thumb, that is, rules that might be true in a large number of cases but might not always be true. That’s a real distinction. All of these rules are approximate, and as you develop as a writer, you learn to bend them, so that you don’t feel you have to submit to them. You just know what they are. And you can incorporate them and see what you can do with them. At least that’s how I feel about it at this point. If you have a character who’s absolutely static, and is exactly the way she was on page one, and has stayed that way, and you’re on page 238 and she’s still acting in exactly the same way she was 238 pages before, I mean, you may have a problem. It’s common sense to say that if the character hasn’t been affected by anything, why have we needed 238 pages? You can see how this works. But as I said, they’re not laws.
SL: Okay. You mentioned “Dysfunctional Narratives.” In that essay, you talked about a “psychic landscape of trauma and paralysis,” and how this is in line with the passive protagonist. You talked about how that was influenced by George Bush Sr. and this idea that “mistakes were made, but we didn’t make the mistakes.” Do you still see that trend happening right now? A sort of passive, blame-free trend in young up-and-coming writers?