One of the biggest challenges for novel writers – and a challenge closely entwined with structure – is the character arc.
At the beginning of the story, the lead character – and, usually, the two or three others developed to similar extent – is incapable of meeting the challenge posed by the plot. During the course of the story, they learn how to meet that challenge. At the end of it, they meet that challenge and win.
In some stories – especially the hero journey – this usually involves action; physically learning from experiences. In literary tales, that journey is more complex, inward-looking, a journey of the mind. Some tales may have aspects of both.
The character arc has to work closely with the plot and structure of the novel – they are aspects of the same thing when it comes to planning. Therein lies the challenge. Some writers, I suspect, approach story telling from a plot perspective; a cool scene, or a cool scenario, then make the character arc fit that.
Others do it the other way around:
1. Define the character – particularly, what is it they need to grow as people (as opposed to what they say they want)
2. The character arc becomes their journey towards getting what they need – for instance, learning confidence; or understanding something about themselves.
3. The plot falls in around that, including the cool scenes the author has in their mind.
Of course, it’s not literally as easy as one-two-three. The character arc will help draw the reader forward, but there are other issues of pace, tension and action to work in. It’s a juggling act with jigsaw pieces. But they can be made to fit! It’s a question of breaking down the issues – the character arc, the plot tensions, the actual events, the conflicts – and working them out systematically.
Which way do you define your characters and their character arcs?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012