Character arcs are fundamental to a good novel. Without them, it’s not a story. With them – it’s something readers can’t put down.
Plot, curiously, is secondary to the character arc – though plot and character arc have to mesh together. The rising and falling waves of plot tension have to coincide with the key pivot points of the character’s arc, as they go from their beginning point (where they need something) to the end point (where they’ve found it). And that’s what this post is about.
The plot points, in short, tell us HOW the character fulfils their arc. Dramatic moments are also the points where the character learns something they need.
Although that’s not necessarily what they want – and the tension between ‘need’ and ‘want’ is one way of pushing more drama into the novel. It’s a hook that will make readers like the character – or dislike, if the character is dislikeable.
There are all sorts of ways authors use to integrate the two, but one that often works is this. Start with a blank sheet of paper and a pen – yes, a pen. Or a pencil. Divide it into two columns, labelled ‘Plot’ and ‘Main character’. Then try this:
- What are the main beginning and end points of the intended plot? Write them at top and bottom of the column.
- What is the start point of the character (what do they need to learn about themselves as a person). Write it down at the top of that column. What is the finish point (where they have learned that thing and developed as a character).
- Note down the key plot points you have in mind in the plot column. Set them up in rising waves of tension with the major ‘burst’ of tension near the end. Then ask how the character is going to develop in the face of each, leading to a final frisson that coincides with the end of the plot.
- Do it again – this thing is going to be iterative. Keep doing it until you’re satisfied.
- This is the FIRST version of the story skeleton. It’ll need fleshing out – but as always, these things need a start point.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015