Polarity is essential to storytelling, governed by a few simple rules but capable of generating conflict, complexity, and audience involvement. These ideas on polarity are pulled from The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. Last week, I gave the first eight points on polarity.
9. The Other End of the Spectrum. When a character goes through a reversal of polarity, what happens to his or her partner in the polarized relationship? Some of these partners exist only to catalyze change in a main character, and will not change much themselves. But they may make a reciprocal movement toward the force at the opposite pole. When a dependable, strong character has a sudden weak moment, the usually cowardly character may need to step up until the strong character gathers his courage.
10.Going to Extremes. Experimenting with any polarized system involves going to the extremes. Characters that have leaned toward one side of a polarity not only experiment with the unaccustomed opposite quality, but take it to the limit. Those who have been shy take new-found confidence too far, becoming obnoxious. They overcompensate, missing the point of balance. Realizing their failure, they may revert to their usual shyness. Through a series of these swings, they may learn to behave in the middle ground.
11.Reversal of the Reversal. In effect, the characters are learning from each other, shocked into it by contact with someone who is a polar opposite in one or more dimensions of behavior. After testing the other polarity, the characters reverse to normal. As a general rule, people remain true to their basic natures. They change, but only a little. They learn from their experience and end up in a place just a tad different from where they started. This is a realistic character change.
12.Polarity Seeks Resolution. Sometimes the two big ideas or life-ways that have been polarized throughout a story will seek resolution by converting into something else, a third way that resolves the contradiction between the two elements, a compromise. The two characters or opposing themes come to an agreement, edging toward the opposite polarity while maintaining the original position.
13. Polarized Universes. Polarity is a system that operates at all levels in stories, from large-scale clashes of cultures to intimate human relationships, all the way down to polarities within individuals. On the big scale, a story can show a polarized clash between two cultures, generations, world-views, or philosophies of life.
14. Inner Polarity. A story can be built around the polarities that sometimes exist within a person. Characters that have two opposing personalities create inner polarity. These are usually characters who disguise themselves in public, who have alternate personas in different situations, or those who are clinically psychotic.
15. Agon. The creation of the world is polarized. God divides light form darkness and the heavens from the earth. Primordial gods wrestled monsters of chaos in the earliest stories of creation. In the ancient world, where abstract qualities such as luck, love, war, and victory were personified, humanized, and worshipped as gods, the potent force of polarity was recognized in the person of the Greek god Agon, the force of struggle and conflict. The spirit of Agon is imbedded in the polarized terms "protagonist" and "antagonist". "Agony" derives from agon and signifies that they process of struggle is painful and arduous.
16. Polarity Gives Orientation. Polarity gives the audience orientation about the characters and situation within a story. Polarity lets us know who has the power and suggests how it might shift. It signals who we are to be aligned with in the story and helps us understand how all the characters and situations are aligned with one force or the other. Polarized stories with clear opposing forces are the easiest to identify with, but some stories deal precisely whit the gray areas, creating characters and situations that are remarkable and interesting because they aren't obviously polarized.
Polarities in stories form a conceptual framework with which to organize ideas and energy, building up positive and negative charges around selected characters, words, and concepts. They serve an essential dramatic function by stirring us up, triggering emotional involvement and physical reactions.