Monday, August 13, 2012

Three Steps for Ensuring an Effective Character Arc

Three simple steps for ensuring a reader understands your characters and is compelled to keep reading them:

1. The first time each character appears on the page they must be acting in their normal way.

EXAMPLE: If the mysterious and brooding hero is about to meet the girl of his dreams and throw away his little black book, the first time the reader meets him he has to be chatting up the cheerleader and observing how boring it's all become.

2. The character must be pushed out of their norm by direct influence of the story question (not a side-character, or subplot, or implausibly convenient author vehicle).


Romance: When brooding hero meets girl-of-his-dreams, he must find a new philosophy on life and love if he wants to win her over. Story question: Will they or won't they?

Fantasy: A reluctant heroine realizes the only way to save her family is to use the magical ability she hates and marry the King. Story question: Can she accept herself and find love?

Dystopian: When her parents are killed by their owners, plucky slave heroine is determined to escape and return to her brother - her only free relative. Story question: Will she make it out alive?

3. By the story's resolution, the character must be changed in a tangible way, but retain what originally made them interesting.

I find this one a little harder to explain, since it kind of falls into the "know it when I see it" camp. But consider the epic movie Schindler's List, in which the hero originally begins doing good to suit his own purposes, but is slowly drawn into the plight of the Jewish people around him. By the third act, while retaining the gruffness and prosperity that defined him and put him in this position, he's begun "saving" Jews at risk to himself - a completely about-turn from the original motive.

Your Turn: What's the hardest part about writing character development? Are there other elements you'd like us to cover on the blog to help?

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