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Changing the way we think about character change in episodic television series

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Regular characters in episodic television series do not change, develop or transform. At least this is the way these characters are commonly understood. In television series, the plot focuses on episodic adventures, and the core cast of characters are seen as fairly rigid actants that facilitate those adventures. These apparently static characters of television series are generally understood in contrast to characters in television serials, who do transform over the course of episodes, seasons and years. This view can be found readily in popular discourse as well as writing manuals and scholarly treatises. But there is more to character change in television series. We can also see how characters in television series do change in different ways, displayed chiefly through character action and plot structure. Three kinds of character change on-screen are identified in this article: experiencing significant life events; expressing intense emotions, and displaying contrasting behaviours. Textual analysis of popular crime dramas and sitcoms demonstrates how characters in television series do change continually.

Keywords: character; character change; narrative; serial narrative; seriality; television series

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The University of Melbourne

Publication date: June 1, 2015

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  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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