Warning! Here there be spoilers.
I know I’m commenting on what could be considered “old news” in the digital age. However, I find the general surprised response to J. K. Rowling’s secret about Professor Snape befuddling.
J.K. Rowling revealed the secret she shared with recently deceased actor Alan Rickman, who portrayed Professor Snape in the Harry Potter movies. My response, I’m afraid, is much more pedestrian.
I told Alan what lies behind the word ‘always’. https://t.co/NHTJ5J6kxb
— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) January 18, 2016
That Rowling knew Snape would always protect Harry Potter because of his love for Harry’s mother before she finished writing the entire series doesn’t shock me, although it is a pleasant surprise for readers of the books (or viewers of the movie). Rowling is a masterful story teller who would have done herself a dis-service if she didn’t intend this layer in Snape’s complexity from the beginning. I’m sure Rowling spent a great deal of time crafting her main characters and their backstories before writing the first book. Her confirmation via Twitter proves that she did.
Alan Rickman couldn’t share that information with the Harry Potter fans when he was filming. How could he? That would be the mega spoiler to end mega spoilers.
This aspect of Snape is a perfect example of one of the critical tools in an author’s tool box: the character arc. Characters who do not experience some form of change during the course of the story run the risk of being flat and uninteresting.
Basically, there are three kinds of character arcs: positive (or ascending), negative (or descending), and neutral (or flat). By flat, I don’t mean two dimensional characters that only serve to hold up the scenery of a story! Rather these neutral characters have little internal change despite what they experience (think of the archetypal “good guy” versus the “underdog turned hero”).
Writers immerse themselves in the worlds they create. They have to if they have any hope in hell of conveying that vision to readers. It reminds me of when I found out I was pregnant: I didn’t just have an embryo or a fetus inside me. I carried an entire lifespan, one that reached beyond my time on earth. I envisioned my child’s school years, heart aches, happiest and saddest days. Hell, I even knew what their children looked like. It doesn’t matter that reality is a b*tch who has her own plans.
What better way to give Professor Snape, Harry Potter’s closest nemesis, extra depth than involving him in a love triangle with Harry’s parents? A simple, eloquent choice by Rowling.
What is your favourite kind of character arc? Do you have a most memorable transformation in a character?