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Character Arc Writing

Why creating a powerful character arc is important.

When you sit down to write a story are you thinking about the arc your protagonist will journey through as part of the plot? Perhaps you just sit down and write and let the arc unfold organically without giving it too much thought. Have you considered the type of arc that may unfold within your story and how this arc, the story plot, and the theme all work together? These were the questions and more the Finding Your Writers Voice weekly meet-up considered this week.

Creating powerful character arcs for your story.
Creating a powerful character arc for your stories.

Writers face many questions when honing their craft and according to K.M. Weiland ‘How to write character arcs’ it’s one of ‘the’ questions for writers to ponder, consider and get right as part of their storytelling. She says that if you as a writer master the principles of character arcs then your confidence and skills in writing any story will be enhanced.

Now, let’s just check in here on a simple question, ‘as a writer, do you think about character arcs explicitly before and during your writing?’ The overwhelming answer from the writing group last night was no. It was mentioned that a preferred approach was to let the character unfold organically as the story progresses, pantster style if you will. Is this a more authentic, a less manufactured approach to the development of your characters? Are deliberate character arcs only for plotters? Tell us what you think in the comments.

Let’s pause for a moment here and consider the question of character arc, plot, and theme. Are they inextricably related or independent of each other?

Are Character Arc, Plot and Theme inextricably linked?

Does your character arc showcase the theme of your story? Think about a famous character in your favorite book. What does the character look like at the start of the story versus what they look like at the end of the story? If you think about the difference in character between the start and the end, is that your theme?

We pushed on regardless to examine the three most common character arcs.

  • The Change Arc
  • The Flat Arc
  • The Negative Arc

The ‘Change Arc’ is the most common and will resonate the most with your readers. Your main protagonist starts living a life that is unfulfilled in various ways, like most ordinary people. Certain events will happen to her that make her challenge her inner beliefs about herself and the world around her. Whatever inner demons were lurking beneath the surface have been conquered leaving her in a better, more positive place. Hence the ‘positive’ change arc.

The ‘Flat Arc’ is self-descriptive, most much happens to the hero of the story, and they remain unchanged as the story unfolds, possibly impacting others in a positive or negative way. One of the best examples of this type of arc is the character of Sherlock Holmes. Superheros can also fall into this category.

The ‘Negative Arc’ charts the progress of a character who changes in a negative way from the start to the end of the story. A great example of this arc is Michael Corleone in the Godfather.

Possibly the most difficult concept to get your head around developing characters, at least in my opinion, is understanding the lie that your character believes. According to Weiland, characters dislike change and this resistance helps move the story and character along.

Resistance in your characters leads to conflict which leads to the plot developing.
Resistance leads to Conflict leads to Plot

Get into your writer mindset, your story telling mindset for this craft building insight. The plot and the character arc are linked, inextricably. As the plot develops your main character changes and vice versa. One impacts the other. What’s driving the protagonist though at a deeper level? What’s the lie driving them.

Let’s say your main character is a middle-aged man, bored with life, going through the motions. An inciting incident gives him the opportunity to break out of his mundane life and get involved in something exciting and possibly dangerous. What’s ultimately driving him? Is it his mundane life, or something deeper? It’s too easy and neat to blame his everyday life as the reason why he’s looking for something to capture him, spark his existence back to life.

Perhaps he’s seeking, craving attention, validation, or respect. You get the idea, that the lie he might be living is that people don’t respect him. Perhaps he’s seeking adventure to prove his worth to himself and others. His mundane life hides his true lie.

The last piece we covered was wants versus needs. Your character consciously had something in her head that she wants. The important question here is why does your character want what she wants? Does that physical thing that is the goal hide something deeper that she actually needs. The striving toward their wants is hiding the deeper, more significant, goals of her needs.

A character’s Wants versus their Needs

Some interesting and diverse authors, topics, and books that also came across our paths during the discussion were:

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