Things I learnt from Gravity Falls: Intentional character arcs

Gravity Falls cast

Gravity Falls characters from left to right: Soos, Dipper, Grunkle Stan, Mabel, Wendy

Gravity Falls is a wacky cartoon series about fraternal twins Dipper and Mable, who are sent to Gravity Falls to spend summer with their Grunkle Stan. It doesn’t take long for them to bump into the local mysteries, such as gnomes that puke rainbows).

The series puts a lot of unique twists on common character types we usually see in fiction (like the gnome). Something else I like about the series is that it doesn’t reset at the end of every episode. Things happen, characters change (for better or for worse), and the change carries on into the next episode where more things happen.

Usually, my ‘Things I learnt from fiction’ posts tend to be about the series, but this post is a little more meta.

I came across an interview with Alex Hirsch, the creator of Gravity Falls, and one of the questions was about how a Gravity Falls episode was written.

Usually, an episode would start from an idea, such as ‘Pterodactyl swallows the pig’.

Nothing unusual.

Then they would brainstorm on how to turn that into an episode.

Pretty standard.

At the same time, they would look for “a character story that actually uncovers, explores, or pushes tension—on something our characters care about—that is properly explored via the magic or monster or impossibility of the week“.

Not so standard.

I’ve always been a big fan of great characterisation, but in my mind, plot and character tends to be in separate boxes. There is the plot, where the hero faces great odds to save the world, and there are quiet scenes in between, where the characters (and the audience/readers) get to know each other better.

What Alex describes though, is a more active way to weave character and plot together. While it can be tough, adding this extra consideration into crafting a scene can also be helpful. There are so many ways to extrapolate on an idea. Having an extra goal to work towards can help narrow down the choices to something that can not only advance the story but bring the characters to life.

Definitely something I would try to keep in mind when working on my own stories.

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Posted on April 11, 2016, in Things I learnt from fiction and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Something that’s rarely considered and needs to be considered more. It’s a great question to pose for any kind of series, really. Thanks for the insight and pointing it out! I’ll be sure to keep this up on my wall as I create my story. I’ve been stuck on the subplot for awhile, and I think this was exactly what I needed to continue to push the story in a new and different direction. 🙂

  2. Sorry my reply’s coming late, I just saw the email today… but anyways, I’m writing a graphic novel / webcomic about a cat who has lost all of his extra lives. The official pitch:

    “When a hoarding cat fills his house with clutter, his extra lives leave in search of a happier existence before they wither away. With one life left, will he be able to part with his precious things and find his lost lives, or will they all perish?”

    How about yourself? Are you writing anything these days?

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