A post that one of my friend's made on their Facebook helped create today's blog topic. There are multiple ways to write a story, but for me one of the best ways especially if you have multiple characters is to have them intersect into a story through various paths. Their character arcs themselves drive the characters and the plot, not the plot driving the characters. Obviously in such stories as Lord of the Rings, there is a goal that everyone is trying to accomplish, but everyone getting there has their rocky paths and obstacles.
For me one of the best uses of this is the story of Final Fantasy IX, because it is essentially many windows of multiple character arcs that both introduce and progress the story. It isn't just the protagonists that due this either, the antagonists also have their own character arcs of sorts, which shows how much the story cares about it's characters which are what drives the story to success in so many fans eyes.
There are three components I think work in the favor of it's characters. The main thing is that the characters have character arcs that are essentially rising/falling actions, the characters interact with the world and their experience and those same rising/falling actions change their perspective of the world and then finally the characters story arcs are what drives the plot, not the other way around.
The characters in Final Fantasy IX include Zidane, Vivi, Freya, Amarat, Stiener, Eiko and of course the most important is Garnet. Many would think that Zidane the main protagonist is the focus of the story, but he is not. Garnet aka Dagger is what the story revolves around. Zidane is just a useful viewpoint character not just for Garnet, but for the rest of the characters in the game. Zidane and Garnet can be seen as the two protagonist, and traditional many people have labeled Garnet as the deuteragonist.
The main plot of the story starts and is resolved by Garnet's decisions, she leads the story. Her main character arcs are what shapes the story's direction. Zidane's does not, he is just the major player that the events of the story unfold using. His actions do not really put anything into motion, except for in the beginning, but that is a bit of a misnomer due the fact that Zidane although set out to capture the princess, the princess wanted to be captured.
Depending on how one interprets that scenario you could say that Zidane went out to capture the princess and to his surprise she wanted to be captured. This is how the game if told through traditional lens would say it happens. But, it doesn't end there due to Garnet being the one to press everything else forward in terms of her actions. It is her actions of wanting to be captured, and her decision to go to Lindblum. Then everything else from Lindblum is instigating by her poisoning the party and by doing so, splitting the party. Although Zidane's group is split from Garnet, it is Garnet who is being proactive, while everything up to Zidane getting Garnet back is him being reactive to the situation.
Zidane's character arc itself is still important, it is probably just like Garnet's important to the story. But, most of the story, Zidane is a reactive character. Yes, he wants to help people, but usually it is only after the fact. His character is important as it is through him we see the world of Gaia, and he is the main character that links all the others. His role is not that of the main hero, as Garnet is far more important in that role, but he fufills a similar but paralel role. Through his character arc up until the big reveal about his creation and past, he is our guide through the story. It is his character arc that shows us the beautiful and dark world.
The other characters are still important both gameplay wise and story wise. Vivi being probably the third most important character due to him being a black mage, and having to come to terms with his own creation and his own destiny. Steiner has to come to terms with his responsibility and duty and what that actually means. The other characters deal with sadness, emotions and other themes that are seen throughout the story. But their character arcs all blend into and are apart of the story that is being told in the game.
Freya's backstory and motivation aligns her with Zidane's crew, and she becomes crucial in the Burmecia/Clerya story arcs. Amarat and Eiko are both linked to Zidane's character arc through their own pasts and character arcs. Vivi and Steiner are the only two who don't really need Zidane to finish their character arcs, hence why they are a bit more interesting as characters and are more important to the overall plot itself. The other characters are more so tied to Zidane, and stay with the party due to him.
The reason that these character arcs work is that they are all have something that character arcs need and that are rising and falling actions. This creates conflict which allows characters to progress in a story. Zidane faces the Alexandrian Army with success and loss. Through that loss, we learn about other characters mostly antagonists and about the overall plot, but what builds as a mystery, eventually through these failures and rising actions allows for a small plot thread to be seen each instance. Be it Garnet's capture because of her own protagonist actions or Zidane and crew being beaten by Beatrix. These conflicts allow the story to progress, it gives the characters a reason to exist in the world and not only gives them motivation, but it gives the player a sense of where the story is heading at each turn.
It is through these character arcs that are a series of rising and falling actions that new characters and certain plot threads are unveiled. The mystery in the beginning is far more serious than the player is let on. Although we are told one thing, eventually the truth is far more complicated. It isn't written as some lame and cheesy twist either, it is shown slowly with small pieces of information that are useful for piecing together the puzzle.
The rising and falling character arcs become the thread that make the rising and falling actions of the plot so intense. It only works because the character arcs form individual threads that are important to lay a ground work for discovering the mystery of Zidane, Vivi and Garnet's back stories. Through these pasts and histories we meet Freay, Eiko, and Amarant and it is also through these plot threads and actions of the protagonists that they become threats and targets of our antagonists be it Queen Brahne. Garland, Kuja or even Necron, who doesn't really appear until the late game.
What drives the plot is not the plot driving the characters to an end point, instead the actions of the characters in their individual, but primarily by the character arcs of Zidane and Garnet reach various rising and falling actions that force the plot along. This is a bit different than Final Fantasy games before and after it because in many of the Final Fantasy games from previous years or afterwords push the plot onto the characters and that is your plot. This game does something I think that creates better characters and a much more proactive and natural plot.
People can disagree with me, but for my money this is one of the more succesfull ways that characters arcs pushing plot can be used as an example. Do you have any stories that you think pushes character arcs to the front to drive the plot along. Post a story you think does a good job about doing this.