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?