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Is it possible to write a story with one single character and no development of that character at all.

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    @LaurenIpsum Definitely related, but I think this question contains a different enough shade of meaning to stand on its own. – Neil Fein Sep 17 '14 at 3:13
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    A classic example is Sherlock Holmes, who generally solves the case brilliantly and continues entirely unaffected. A story whose focus is on plot or setting might not need character development at all; character development might actually distract from the focus. But it depends on so much, particularly on what it is that you're trying to do, that I really can't say much beyond "yes, it can be done." – Standback Sep 17 '14 at 6:49
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    @Standback ACD's Sherlock Holmes does not lack character development. The man who meets Dr. Watson in The Sign of Four is not capable of the emotional outburst in "The Adventure of the Three Garridebs" when Watson is injured and Holmes fears for his life. And if he never changed or developed, he wouldn't be willing to settle down and retire to Sussex to keep bees; he'd continue to try to solve crimes from Baker Street regardless of age or infirmity. He may not change much, but he changes. – Lauren Ipsum Sep 17 '14 at 10:00
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    @LaurenIpsum: My intention wasn't that Holmes never has character development, but that many of his individual stories don't have any character development. – Standback Sep 17 '14 at 10:57
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    @Standback Yes, that I'll grant you. – Lauren Ipsum Sep 17 '14 at 13:19
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You can always have a character who doesn't develop; flat Disney villains come to mind. But the flat character is generally in opposition to the hero/ine, who does develop.

So the question is, why would you write such a story? What could possibly happen in it? If you have one character, period, and that character doesn't develop, what is that person doing?

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Is it possible? Probably. It may depend on the definition of "character development". I was just looking for a definition and didn't find one in 30 seconds, but it's normally understood to mean (a) revealing the nature of a character to the reader, and/or (b) a character growing and changing over the course of the story.

By definition (a), if you write, "Bob walked into the room", you have told us several things about the character: He is named "Bob". He is capable of walking. He has some reason for wanting to be in this room. Okay, trivial things, but you have begun the process of character development. It's hard to imagine a story where you literally tell the reader absolutely nothing about any of the characters, even indirectly.

It's a little more plausible by definition (b). I suppose you could imagine a story where the characters learn nothing and do not change in any way. But at the very least, you would think that SOMETHING must happen to the characters in the course of the story, so if nothing else they have gained experience. Even if you do not spell out how the character's react to these experiences, the reader is likely to draw inferences.

Perhaps you could be more specific about what you have in mind.

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    Maybe a story about an Alzheimer's decease patient? – celtschk Sep 20 '14 at 19:04
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The TV show "Seinfeld" is an example of a show where the characters didn't develop. They never learn anything about themselves and this was a source of humor in the show. Or at least it must have been for the people who liked it (and there was a lot of them), personally I never really got into it.

I think also some of Samuel Beckett's work would have one or two characters and little or no character development, some of it is also comic, and indeed absurd.

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    This is actually a great example. Maybe it's one of the reasons I couldn't stand the show either; you had four horrible people who never got any less horrible. – Lauren Ipsum Sep 18 '14 at 14:44
  • Comedy is maybe the only genre where static characters can work. However, a sitcom like Seinfeld is mostly about interaction between characters, and the question was about a story without character interaction. – Philipp Sep 18 '14 at 21:18
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Normally, when the main character remains static, that character is actually a catalyst character and the world or characters around them are the true protagonists. A popular example is Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Ferris Bueller may be the titular character, but it is more or less agreed that his best friend Cameron is the real protagonist, Ferris merely gives Cameron an impetus to change.

This may be an interesting route to try if you were to write a story with a single unchanging character!

Some development must occur to have a successful story, even if it's a change in the audience's understanding rather than one inside of the story itself. Otherwise, there would be no point in consuming it, it'd be the literary equivalent of empty calories.

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Anything is possible in writing. There may be quality issues though. Wait, let me get this straight. You want to write a single story with one static character total? You could, but I can only think of one other story that a single character and thats Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and that was a dynamic character.

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It is possible. How, I know not, but it is possible. I once wrote a story that was literally a narration of events with no character, and the community (it was a fan fiction) really liked it. I still don't know how that happened.

A character did appear later on, but there was no character development. The closest it got was when the character almost sacrificed himself so someone could escape, but that event had no impact on anything else whatsoever. The character never changed.

Needless to say, that was written before I knew anything about development.

  • I'm just curious, but would you be willing to link to this story? – Neil Fein Sep 17 '14 at 3:15
  • Certainly. I would prefer not to put it here though. Is there a private messaging system on this site? I can't seem to find one. (Just be aware that I did not know how to write when I wrote it, and there are a LOT of things wrong with it. – Thomas Myron Sep 18 '14 at 21:25
  • There's no private messaging system on Stack Exchange, but you can contact me here. – Neil Fein Sep 19 '14 at 1:47
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I am actually adding a second answer based on something @user16583 mentioned.

In some long-running comic strips, characters don't age or change. Strips like FoxTrot and Sally Forth occasionally make sly meta-jokes referencing the idea that the kids in the strip have been 10 or 12 for decades. Beetle Bailey has been doing the same thing for 70 years.

But even really long-running strips have some changes: The cast of Peanuts expanded, Blondie has gotten a job, there have been new platoon members and sexual harassment training at Camp Swampy.

So while you might be able to pull this off with a series of short stories (like Jeeves & Wooster, perhaps) or a graphic novel, particularly if the stories are meant to be funny, I think you'd be hard-pressed to make it work with drama.

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In many books on writing, a story is defined as the emotional journey (change) of the protagonist. Plot is the physical journey.

If you buy into that (as I do), then you need change in order to have a story.

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