Writing 101: The Character Arc

by Monica Shaughnessy

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If you’re a beginning writer or maybe a writer struggling with your second novel, you might be wondering how to construct the perfect character arc. Well, I’m here to help. First, let’s define it, shall we?

Character Arc: a character’s emotional journey throughout the story. 

This is completely different from (but intertwined with) characterization, which is the exploration of details about a character’s past and present that make them seem real and that help drive decisions (along with emotion) throughout the story. For instance, if your main character is autistic (characterization), it will significantly alter their emotional choices (arc). One feeds into the other. But for the sake of this post, let’s extract the character arc so that we may study it in detail.

At the opening of your story, your character begins with an emotional state. Here are some classic opening emotions:

Boredom – I wish something exciting would happen to me for a change.

Joy – I met the most wonderful guy last week, and now we’re dating.

Terror – I just woke up, and there’s a man at the foot of my bed.

Pressure – If I don’t defuse the bomb, the mall will explode.

Throughout the story, your character’s emotional state will vary, but the main emotion, the one you begin with, will drive the forward action of the plot because your MC will either be trying to rid themselves of that feeling or trying to maintain that feeling, despite roadblocks. So choose this state carefully and with purpose.

As we progress through the story, here’s how the above emotions might play out, depending on plot turns:

Boredom – I went looking for action, and I found it! Hooray! Except, it’s more dangerous than I thought it would be. And I have to be home in time for dinner.

Joy – My guy’s mother doesn’t like me. She’s trying to tear us apart.

Terror – I’m going to fight my way out of this situation. Again and again.

Pressure – I’m getting a little old for all this pressure. Do I even want it anymore?

As the story progresses, your character will continue to fight for what they want or they might begin to see what they’re fighting for isn’t worth it.

Boredom – Well, I’m not bored anymore. Because I’m in the emergency room with a broken foot.

Joy – I’m so confused. We were so happy once. Can we be that way again? Maybe, if his mother moves to Boca Raton.

Terror – I refuse to live in terror. I will make a plan, once and for all, to end this.

Pressure – You know, defusing bombs is kind of fun. And it beats working for the post office.

By the end of the story, your character will come to terms with the emotions they’ve been feeling since page one, and they will assess whether they want to maintain that initial state or not. Even if they don’t control the outcome of the plot, they can still choose their mental state.

Boredom – Things aren’t so bad at home. Especially when you compare them to a trip to the ER. I’ll take homework and dinner with my parents any old day! (character craves boredom)

Joy – Who needs a mamma’s boy? The guy was a jerk. Good riddance. (character realizes that joy is no longer attainable)

Terror – I defeated that crazy guy and reclaimed my life so that I can live in peace. (character overcomes terror)

Pressure – This job is totally worth whatever stress it gives me. I’m not ready to retire. (character accepts pressure)

You see? The main character will accept or overcome or reject or crave what they once felt. In all cases, the emotion is tightly bound by the plot, and the plot is tightly bound by emotion. If, once you write your story, you can’t easily change the plot without damaging what the character is experiencing emotionally, then you’ve nailed your character arc. Congratulations! But if you can easily swap out one emotion for another, say, lust for greed, then your story needs more work.

With a little hard work, I know you can get it right!

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Your turn, dear reader. Having trouble with a pesky character arc? Let’s talk shop.

 

Imaginary friends and writing

by Mandy Broughton

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My daughter had an imaginary friend. My daughter treated her as a real friend. So real that it was six months before I realized she didn’t exist. Imagine my surprise when I asked the preschool teachers to point out Olivia to me and they told me, “there’s no Olivia in this class.” Turns out there wasn’t an Olivia in any classes at the school. I know, I checked.

Best friends. Olivia was quite the trouble-maker. I’d hear all about these wild parties my daughter and Olivia would throw while I slept blissfully through the night. I said more than once I was glad Olivia was good at cleaning up the house after a wild night of partying.

Olivia’s mom was quite the rebel too. I was informed one day that Olivia’s mom was thrown in jail for speeding. I found myself arguing with a three year old on whether or not her imaginary friend’s mother was thrown in jail for speeding. Sheesh!

I decided to research children and imaginary friends. I never had any. As a child, I was perfectly content to sit and read in my room all day. Friends–real or imaginary–would disturb that peace.

Imaginary friends are what we would expect from highly creative people. Active imagination. Intelligent. Creative. Verbal. What I did not expect was that many adults had imaginary friends. What?! Are these people in need of a mental health professional? Maybe, but mostly they are creative adults. And it turns out many of those creative adults are authors.

As a writer, I know I have proper characterization when I dream about my characters. I can hear what they say in certain situations. I know how they’d act when problems arise. Fictional characters should not be shooting gallery ducks forced to respond in a certain way when a crisis occurs.* Characters should be organic, growing as the story progresses. They should feel more real than some real-life celebrities we watch and follow in the news.

As a writer, have you ever needed a character to act a certain way and she just wouldn’t? She’s supposed to be angry but she’s acting all quirky and sarcastic on the page. Or two characters start flirting with each other and they’re not supposed to even like each other. Happens to me all the time. My characters have taken over the pages of my manuscripts. And many of them are completely unrepentant for derailing my plot. I guess I’ve developed imaginary friends as an adult. Maybe I’m a late bloomer.

So tell me, dear writers, how do you know when you’ve achieved proper characterization? Do you hear voices in your head? Do you dream about them? Do you mock-up a fake Facebook page and imagine what they’d post? I mostly argue with mine.

Back to work on this first work week of the New Year. I hope the New Year brings plenty of good books, lots of writing, and great friendships–real and imaginary!

Oh, and I can’t forget, as a longtime, die-hard University of Houston Cougar alumni and fan… oDPuclxr.jpgCongratulations on winning the Peach Bowl. GO COOGS!

 

*My editor once told me my characters were like shooting gallery ducks, they were cardboard and went back and forth like I was shooting at them.

 

Celebrate Local Authors!

By Ellen Leventhal

 

local business Maude Marks Library

1815 Westgreen Blvd. Katy, TX

Dec. 6 1:00- 5:00

Help Celebrate Local Authors and Help Maude Marks Library!

 

It’s crazy out there. Really crazy. It’s loud, crowded, and just a little bit scary. Now understand, this is my personal opinion and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Space City Scribes as a whole. After all, we are individuals, but this individual is not fond of crowds and pushing and ripping things out of other people’s hands. Let’s be a little civilized, can’t we? You do see the irony of finishing Thanksgiving and then running out on Black Friday to get more stuff, don’t you? I know some people love it, but the idea of camping out overnight to get a deal on a flat screen TV is not my idea of fun. Nor is fighting crowds and knocking over little old ladies to get that must have item for your fifth cousin once removed. But let’s be realistic. We are in the gift giving season, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I love giving gifts. It may sound hokey, but I really do enjoy giving more than receiving. So I say, let the shopping begin….just not the craziness. How about shopping local?
Nov. 29 was Small Business Saturday. Small businesses were celebrated, and everyone was encouraged to “Shop small.” My husband and I were in a locally owned restaurant where the owner talked with us about the importance of small businesses and the difficulties of trying to stay in business in the shadow of mega everythings. I certainly admit to an occasional foray to Costco, but normally I try to patronize small locally owned businesses. It’s important for our economy, and it’s important for our culture. There is something satisfying about knowing that the mom and pop store will still be around with Mom or Pop personally helping you find what you need.
This coming Saturday, Maude Marks Library in Katy, TX will be highlighting local. But instead of restaurants and boutiques, they will celebrate local authors. Maude Marks Library has been very supportive of local authors, and now it’s time to thank them by donating a percentage of their proceeds back to the library. Sounds like a win-win to me. Twenty eight authors will be presenting, discussing, and selling their books. If you’re in the Houston area, come on out and meet us. We’ll get to know you, shake your hand, and sign some books. And I am pretty sure, there will be no pushing, shoving, or knocking down old ladies.