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Character Consistency in Stories

I was listening to a podcast review of Star Trek: Into Darkness and I was a little surprised to hear some of the people on the show say they felt some of the characters were inconsistent from who they were in the 2009 film.  Likewise, I have also heard some complain that Tony Stark was inconsistent in Iron Man 3 compared to how he was before.

I disagree with both of these viewpoints, but it did get me to thinking about consistency in characters in stories (primarily from movie to movie). Just when is the character experiencing a natural change in their arc, and when is it just out of character? Personally, I found Elizabeth and Will wildly inconsistent in the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies as to who they were in the first one. But I know people who disagree. Why do some of us accept certain character changes and some of us not?

Bones contemplates this for us…

The Consistency of the Story

I think part of it is how you view the story overall. For instance, I thought the second POTC movie was a ridiculous rehash of jokes from the first and that the third movie got way too serious. The first story was such a fun romp and I felt the next two films deviated from what made the first one so good. Since I did not enjoy the plots of the story and the twists that were happening, I felt that the characters themselves were taking actions that were not consistent with how I viewed them in the first movie.

In the 2009 Star Trek film, Kirk is cocky and confident, much like Tony Stark is in Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and The Avengers. With Tony, I think we start to see him change in The Avengers, when he makes the decision to sacrifice himself (though ultimately he makes it out fine) to save all the others. In Iron Man 3, he is wrestling with what he experienced in that moment: being worried about Pepper, shocked by the fact that aliens are real, etc. I could see the thread of what happened. And he still certainly had plenty of Tony Stark moments.


With the Star Trek films, I admit it’s not as clear cut. At the end of 2009, Kirk gets the Captain’s chair at an extremely young age and with virtually no experience. In Into Darkness, he appears to be much the same, taking big risks with the belief that it will always work out fine. He gets lectured that it won’t always be fine, but none of that means much until he (SPOILERS for the rest of this paragraph) sees Pike die. Pike is like a father to Kirk, so his death really rocks his world. He wants to hunt down the man responsible, but he also has to learn what risks are necessary and which ones are not. It’s hard to fit so much change in a two hour film without it feeling too forced, but at the end Kirk makes a decision like Tony does. Maybe there could have been better ways to develop these two plot lines, but for me, they were fine. But I also embraced the entirety of their stories.


If a story is filled with plot holes and weird twists that no one believes, people are not likely to buy into what the character is doing either.

The Consistency of Voice

I was listening to another podcast called “Writing Excuses” (what can I say, I’m a podcast junkie), and in a recent episode they were discussing why the writing in The Avengers worked so well. One of the main things they praised about the movies was the consistent character voice, and for ALL the characters! But they said there were even a couple of times that the voice was not consistent but it was so well-played it didn’t matter. The big example of this was with Thor’s line about Loki being adopted. They said it was OK with them, even though it didn’t sound like something Thor would say, because the joke was perfect, it needed to be shared, and Thor had to be the one to deliver it.

I think this goes with the next point…

The Consistency in Tone

I think the example of Pirates of the Caribbean works well for this. I did not feel the tone of the second and third movies were not consistent with the first. And going back to The Avengers, though Thor’s joke was not consistent with his individual character voice, it was consistent with the tone of the movie and the dialogue in general.

This might be why some struggle with Iron Man 3 or Into Darkness, because both movies are a little darker than their predecessors. I personally do not find them to be such large departures, and I find the overall tones still consistent, but there is some change. I mean, among Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, and Iron Man 3, there are three different directors at work. But tone can change as the characters grow, it’s just a matter of balancing the change tone, character, and story in a way that is believable and trying to stay consistent in voice and other areas.

The Consistency in Back Story

It is extremely important for writers to remember what they (or other writers working on previous projects before them) have written about a character. Likewise, it’s important for the character to have actions that match up with their personal back story. Sometimes the writer may not know the back story for the character until a lot about the character has been written, but as long as it matches with the character’s behavior, that is fine. Kirk from the J.J.-verse is different from Roddenberry’s Kirk. This Kirk lost his father and thus grew up in a very different household. He had the same mother and he still lived in Iowa, but one major difference completely changed the way he was living his life. So when the 2009 and Into Darkness Kirk is more immature and more reckless than the original Kirk, it makes sense, because he didn’t have the same strong father figure.


When there’s a disconnect between a character’s past and their present, without a middle that connects the change between the two (which would be more backs story we would need), we find the whole character unbelievable.

But no matter how hard a writer tries to balance all of these things, not everyone is going to agree on what works and what doesn’t work. It is the nature of art.

What do you think? Who are characters that you believe show great consistency throughout their story arc? Who are some characters that you feel do not?

Review: Iron Man 3

I think expectations can have a great effect on how you ultimately feel about a movie (or book). Sometimes, when you set the bar low, you end up being blown away and loving something! Sometimes, you set the bar high, so when the  plot or characters (or both) disappoint, you end up feeling underwhelmed. My expectations for Oblivion were super high, like, this-is-gonna-be-one-of-my-new-all-time-fave-movies high and I ended up a little bit disappointed. I was looking forward to Iron Man 3, but were my expectations for it were lower. What is actually happening in this movie? I’m sure it will be good but I have no idea what is going to happen. So of course, I ended up loving it.

ironman3Five words to describe Iron Man 3: Intense. Funny. No Nick Fury?!

Iron Man 3 is a little bit darker and more intense throughout the movie than its predecessors. Yes, that cave scene in the first Iron Man movie is a rough, and the first time we see Ivan Vanko on the racetrack in Monte Carlo it definitely got intense, but the danger always felt imminent in this installment. I found the movie well-paced, and it certainly included its fair share of wonderfully funny RDJ/Tony Stark moments and quips that help lighten the mood. We also see the aftermath of what Tony went through in The Avengers, which I liked a lot, and he takes a field trip to good ol’ Tennessee! (Since most of you are probably unaware, I live in Tennessee, so this was exciting. But boo on Shane Black for filming the TN parts in North Carolina! I mean, seriously? But I digress…) I absolutely love the kid he befriends there, Harley, and I think the child actor who played him did a great job (maybe we can recast him as Anakin in The Phantom Menance… and have someone, ANYONE rewrite the screenplay…).

Also, I feel this was Iron Man’s best foe; there’s even an interesting twist concerning the villain, but I won’t give it away! I thought Guy Pearce and Ben Kingsley did a great job in their roles. Gwyneth Paltrow and Don Cheadle also did great returning to their roles as Pepper Potts and Colonel Rhodes, respectively (Terrence Howard who?).

IRON MAN 3There are a few small problems with the movie. First off: it does not snow that much in December in  TN. SERIOUSLY. OK, I’m being nit-picky, and it is possible, especially in the East, but still not very likely or common. Second, out of all the crazy things that happen in this movie that I totally have no problem believing, it bothered me so much that there was not a single conversation with Nick Fury or anyone else at SHIELD about Tony getting some reinforcements to help him out. I mean, seriously, what are Captain America and Black Widow and Hawkeye really up to? I’m hoping we find out they’re working on their own missions around this same time, like how Iron Man 2 and Thor took place right around the same time. But even a voice mail that said: “Sorry, we can’t help,” would have been nice. Of course, Tony Stark is presumed to be dead by the world for a good portion of this time, but I think someone would have checked up on that to be sure.

Also, I personally did not have a problem with this, but I know other people did/will, and that is that it can be easily perceived that Pepper is a “damsel in distress” towards the end of the movie. This is kind of true in a way, I suppose, but if you know Pepper, you know how strong she is. What happens is a by-product of her relationship with Tony and it makes sense in the context of the story, and it has nothing to do with her being weak or anything like that. And I think she handles herself pretty well. I mean, by all intents and purposes, President Ellis ends up being a “damsel in distress” too, but no one would say that because he’s a guy. But this does leave me with my last problem with the movie, which is I didn’t really think President Ellis was a well-developed character at all. He never seemed particularly strong, but I don’t think he was meant to come off as weak either. He just seemed kind of OK, and I believe William Sadler is capable of a lot more than the role offered him (just watch Season 7 of Deep Space Nine and you’ll see).

IRON MAN 3But overall, Iron Man had everything: action, fun, and good character moments, except of course, we sadly have no Agent Coulson, which just isn’t right. 🙁

whedonite problems
Curse you, Joss Whedon!

This was a great way to kick off the summer, but unfortunately, I’m afraid there really aren’t going to be a lot of truly great summer movies after May. Four out of five stars. And of course, stay until after the credits. 🙂

Have you seen Iron Man 3? What did you think?