The Fascinating Human Character Arc #AuthorToolboxBlogHop
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Thank you Raimey!
Would you agree, human nature is an evolving process based on experiences and decisions made in the course of one’s life?
I certainly believe it to be true, though I must admit I’m not in love with all human events that have transpired to me or around me.
In writing, every character should experience an arc, a change in the fundamental core of what drives our actions and goals. Shifts may happen to our character in any number of ways: mentally, physically, spiritually or emotionally. The key is to show these shifts to the reader based on challenges in the plot.
While researching character arc, I came across a couple of great articles. The first article by K.M. Weiland defines three arcs our main characters may experience:
“The Change Arc.”
The most popular choice where the main character is unfulfilled by life and personal choices and jumps through a series of hoops which constantly challenge these beliefs and the world he or she lives in. The result is change, usually for the better.
“The Flat Arc.”
The main character is already sound and strong. They still go through a series of events with the implication that other characters around them need them in order to change. These minor characters change.
“The Negative Arc.”
This character transformation is not positive, but leads the character into a downward spiral.
The Second Exceptional Article
Melissa Donovan wrote a phenomenal article on character arc and gave me some great writing exercises. I’m sharing her first one below:
“Choose a character from a story you know well and plot the character’s arc, noting the gains, losses, and transformations that the character experiences as the story progresses. Make sure you note the corresponding story event with the change that it effects in the character.”
I’ll use a recent book I am absolutely in love with, Panic, by Lauren Oliver.
In Panic, we see two characters in a split POV format, Heather and Dodge. For the interest of time I’ll look at Heather.
- Gains and Losses
Heather, an 18-year old going nowhere senior in high school, wears her insecurities whether or not she articulates them. The oldest of two girls with a bum mother, she is desperate for a life other than repeating the patterns of her going nowhere but prison, mom. She enters Panic, a secretive adrenaline-drunk game, the police and parents in the community try to track and shut down. She’s not scared of survival for her life, but she is scared of survival for her younger sister and establishing a better life for the both of them. With the $67,000 reward this year, she could secure a place for her and her young sister to stay. She could maybe start school post high school graduation. She’d give her and her sister a real chance to survive the life her mother lives. The problem? She’s aware of how tall and awkward she is. She believes tiny girls get all the breaks. She’s been dumped. She has to face people who live life much larger than she does, and who have real places to go. These peers are also at this game either as spectators or participants. The idea of a public display in front of everyone haunts her at each elimination battle, until she finds out those friends she doesn’t think she can live without, push her away, humiliate her, and make her question if she can truly rely on anyone but herself to win. Heather is left with nothing but the hope of winning Panic to save her sister from her mother.
Gains and Losses.
- Respect from her peers
- A safer better life for not herself but also for her little sister.
Through lies to keep the game a secret, she loses her two childhood friends who are also trying to live their dreams and find the money to define themselves away from their parents and the stereotypes the town and their peers believe them to be.
When her sister’s safety is threatened under Heather’s mothers roof, Heather sets aside all human feelings for anyone but herself and her sister. Heather shows her character arc in physical, mental and emotion manifestations. She slims down. She walks with a different gate. Her kid humor and innocence shifts with the constant adrenaline challenges in the game and in her own personal quiet life. It shows in dialogue, her ability to face any form of humiliation and survive it. She has no choice but to the win the game.
The last point on character I’d like to note came from an amazingly brilliant tweet on Monday by V.E. Schwab.
The success in writing character stems from three things:
“What do they fear,
what do they want,
and what are they willing to do to get it.”
Coupled with a phenomenal character arc, how can you go wrong?
Posted on March 21, 2018, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 41 Comments.
I hope you are fine. I agree with you about human nature.
That’s why we become wiser with age.Because we gain experience.
Great quote by great Mendela 🙂
Thank you Ben. I always appreciate your kind and encouraging thoughts 🙂
I also love “The Redemption Arc,” which is kind of like The Change Arc and it’s my absolute favorite thing in storytelling! I always enjoy seeing a character change fundamentally and become a better person. Even more so if they start out as a “bad guy” and become a good guy by the end. I’m thinking of Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones as an example. I love when a bad person changes their ways in a story!
I have heard so much about that series and definitely want to read the books verses watching the shows. Thank you for sharing the redemption arc. I appreciate your thoughts so much 🙂
Thanks, Ericka. A very thoughtful and useful post. If there’s one area I need to improve it is character development. I think my characters learn and adjust their personalities throughout the story, but arc development isn’t an area I’ve focused as much as I should.
Character Arc is tough for me too. I am still fine tuning the process and really pay attention now as I am reading books that wow me, where I see it. Thank you for stopping in today 🙂
Character Arcs are tough for me, too. I struggle with pacing the ARC right throughout a book, and sometimes I get too interested in my secondary characters and leave my main character too flat. I think it has something to do with the fact that I like world-building – as if the world is the main character sometimes. And, I really know that can be a problem because I have a book at home to remind me (I won’t name the title). My youngest daughter and I both want to love that world-building book, but the main character is flat and unlikeable. It’s painful to see the similarities between that book and some of my writing, but it’s there. I keep having to remind myself of who the main character is and how he/she needs to take the reins of the story in his/her hands and ride it to the end.
Thank yo for sharing your experiences and thoughts with my Tyrean. It’s a huge struggle I’ve faced and still face but I try and that’s all we can ask for most days. I am confident you will get it figured out 🙂
The last example touched me. What do they fear and what are they willing to do? Both great questions that could lead anywhere. 🙂
Anna from elements of emaginette
The bullet points you listed for the success in writing characters stems from three things is tremendously useful. I’m going to use this one! Thanks for the great advice.
I appreciate your thoughts so much Kristina. Thank you for stopping in today 🙂
Great information! Character arcs are difficult, especially if you want a main character who readers will enjoy (or at least want to read about).
I like the last quote: fear, want, and willing to do. That helps focus a character enough to figure out the rest of the details of his/her story.
Natural changes, growth, and character arcs that are done wrong can really mess up a story. I’ve read stories where it was forced and unbelievable and that destroyed the story.
That is so true Diane. It’s a mars skill to learn too but I am trying my best 🙂
Excellent idea to plot a known character’s transformational arc from another story, Erika. Thanks so much for this clear explanation and example. All best to you.
Thank you Victoria. I am happy my thoughts helped in some way and thank you so much for stopping in. 🙂
Excellent post, Erika. I like the summary of the three things that you provided at the end. Answering those questions, not only enhances the character arc but helps drive the plot forward in a dynamic way. Thanks for the link to Donovan’s article, too.
This is great information. I guess I’m a different sort of writer because I don’t think about my characters’ arcs. Or, more accurately, they come naturally to me as I develop the plot and write the story.
I am happy you shared your thoughts with me. I think character arc is easier for some writers then others. I do appreciate you stopping in today Chrys.
This is great. Very informative! Thanks for sharing. 🙂
Thank you Charity. I hope it helped 🙂
As I read this insightful piece, I ran my own characters through the analysis of arc — great truth here…appreciated the application to a book that you are reading!
Thank you Louise. I really appreciate your kind reflection. I struggled this month to write something applicable to where I am with reading and writing and I am happy it turned out ok. 🙂
Great post 🙂
I use ‘The Change Arc,’ a lot, although one of my villains has a Negative Arc, and I really want to write a character who starts off bad and redeems themselves because I love characters like that!
Thank you Louise. I think you should. It would be fun! Maybe I will try It too in a short story.
Oh that’s a great idea! I write a short story a week anyway, so I think I’ll try it 🙂
Panic sounds fantastic, by the way. Thank you for breaking down the arc for us. And it’s so helpful to have all of these perspectives on what a character arc is and what types there are from the different sources you mentioned/quoted. Great post! I’ll schedule it for Facebook soon. 🙂
Thank you Raimey. You are one amazing lady 🙂
I think your 3 point bullets are well made. Almost every character has a goal, and a point where the price might be “too great”, but not every character has a nice independent fear, something that comes in sideways and complicates that simple pattern.
The concept of the character arcs is interesting, but I wonder how many others are out there. And I wonder if there’s such a thing as an arc where neither the protagonist nor the minor characters experience a change/transformation. I imagine the example would be something episodic, where characters go on an adventure and resolve a conflict, but don’t experience any lingering transformation, since the narrative is built on always returning to the starting line in preparation for the next episode.
Definitely interesting food for thought.
Thank you for sharing.
Wow! I love your reflective thoughts Adam. That would be an interesting project to explore. Maybe the characters all part ways and never truly understand anything about the other characters….hmmm. Thank you for stopping in 🙂
Thank you. And thank you as well, for sharing your thoughts. It’s always fun to discuss things like this.
I write/mostly read dark fiction/horror so the arc’s usually about staying alive and beating or at least subduing the antagonist long enough for escape) but the best also incorporate some kind of psychological change – either without insight to insightful and acceptance or sane to insane. Although, especially in films and theatre, it really is the process of change which compels me to keep watching.
Great tips to share and keep for further study!
The character overcoming her fears, or the misconception she has about herself, gives heart to the reader that they can do the same.
Admittedly, I don’t look too much at arcs for my characters. I know where they are and I know where they’ll be and I know what will happen along the way… sometimes. Or maybe they decide they’ll take a completely different route. Such fickle beasts, they are.
Yes…I agree. They are fickle and they say and do some of the darndest things 🙂 thank you for stopping in Loni 🙂
Thanks for a solid breakdown of the different character arcs. I would love an example of the Flat Arc and Negative Arc if you know them. I loved that you used Panic as an example of the Change ARc. Since I focus on characters, the character arc is critical in my planning/ early writing process, and it is great to see examples from completed works.
Victoria Schwab really does tweet some amazing advice about writing characters. Great use of her tweet here.
Thank you so much Erika for stopping in and I am glad I gathered some helpful information. I will definitely think of she books in both those arc categories. I love Victoria Schwab. Her tips are amazing and her writing is amazing too 🙂
I enjoy a good character arc. If a character gets more than a page in a story, I want some sort of arc, if even for the perfect character to realize they’re pretty much perfect.
You are the best wordsmith Elizabeth. Thank you for stopping in today 🙂
I think the human condition one of the fascinating things about creating good characters. I love character-driven story.
Me too Juneta. I like character driven movies too 🙂