I recently watched Wall-e (yes, I asked for it for Christmas—it’s one of my favorite movies) and I realized that Wall-e doesn’t have a character arc. He basically stays the same character throughout the movie. Yes, he falls in love, but that’s not a character arc. Wall-e wanted to fall in love and he did, given the opportunity. He didn’t have to overcome some internal struggle to do it. He had to convince Eve that he loved her, but again, that’s not a character arc. What he did, though, was influence every other character in the story to grow and be more than they were. The greatest change was in Eve. She grew to believe in love and embrace it. Wall-e influenced all of the robots (with the exception of auto-pilot and his minion) to go beyond their programming and try new things simply by being himself. He even influenced the humans to go beyond their programming and routine. Ultimately, he brought out the best in everyone because they could see the purity and goodness that was within him. He gave everyone a chance at a new life by his example.
Off hand I can ‘t think of any other story where the main character doesn’t have a character arc and it works. Usually, not having a character arc is the problem with the story. However, I’ve watched Wall-e probably 20 times and it only occurred to me after this last viewing that he doesn’t have a character arc. And it’s not that he lacks one, he simply doesn’t need it. He’s perfect, which, again, is usually a flaw in a story. A main character that is perfect is generally boring. But Wall-e has a comic element which keeps him from being boring. I guess this is a case where the story breaks two major rules of writing and still works—and works brilliantly. Maybe because all of the other characters are so flawed. Wall-e becomes the catalyst that causes their change. His introduction into their world becomes the inciting incident for the story to unfold. It makes me think about the possibility of abusing other writing rules and still have the story work.
Can you think of another story where the main character doesn’t have an arc? Can you think of another story that successfully violates established writing rules?