Friday, July 20, 2012

Day 29: Character Arc

This has been a LONG 30 days, yeah?  (I mean aside from the fact that it literally has been longer than 30 days...)  

At the beginning of your project you may have had a clear direction of where you wanted your story to go, but now it has shifted and taken on a life all its own.  Perhaps you were vague on the details, but had a general idea floating in your head that has come together through the process.  Either way, you've been so immersed in your story of late, that it's time to take a step back and see the overall picture; specifically as it deals with the transformation your character has made from the beginning of the novel to this point, and will make from this point to the end.  This transformation is often termed the "Character Arc," and deals with the character's emotional development throughout the story.
Emotion Evolution.
Photo Credit:  Sarah Lucas
I've spoken a lot about story structure and some of the key points at which major things are happening to the character (external), or the character is making a decision that changes her circumstances (internal).  Using Victoria Lynn Schmidt's awesome Character Arc Tracker (scroll down to page 282), from her Book in a Month system, we're going to take a look at the way your character has changed throughout your story.
(Does anyone else wonder how a group of lines shooting every which way can be considered an "arc"?  Just thinking out loud here....)

Point 1 -  Your character at the start of Act I
  • This is where we meet your character and learn what normal life is like.  We should have a clear idea of how good (Fun with Dick and Jane) or bad (Cinderella) things are for her - understand where she is emotionally - so as to appreciate the changes that are about to come into her life.
  • Here you will introduce the character's flaw which threatens to be her undoing by the end of the story.

Point 2 - Your character at the End of Act I/ Beginning of Act II 
(AKA: Act I Turning Point, Plot Point 1, First Doorway of No Return, or Entrance into the Exotic World -- the myriad of names is one of the biggest reasons it can be so tricky to understand story structure!)
  • Now something has occurred which has shifted the character's status quo and forced her into a new reality.  Whether this change is pleasant (unexpectedly falling in love) or painful (finding out a spouse is unfaithful), the character is going to need a bit of time to adjust to this new normal.  What is she feeling as she faces these changes?  
  • This is the point at which we begin to see the character's back story and understand why she behaves the way she does.  Oftentimes we will realize that the character's flaw comes from some past experience that she has not yet overcome.  Character arc is all about revealing how a character overcomes (or fails to overcome) a significant flaw that is preventing her from obtaining her goals.

Point 3 - Your character at the Midpoint 
(AKA: End of Act II, Part 1 or Temporary Triumph)
  • Notice this is the point in the "arc" which spikes upward.  This is the high point for the character where we see she's accomplished, or is well on her way to accomplishing, her goals.  Whatever little difficulties she has had to overcome to get to this point felt pretty big to her; she's probably pretty proud of her ingenuity and her ability to get what she wants despite the odds.  However, we know she hasn't yet overcome her flaw - she hasn't learned her lesson - and thus, we suspect the triumph cannot last.

Point 4 - Your character at the Reversal
  • No matter how bad things were for your character before, this is climatically going to be the hardest point for her within your story.  She is at her lowest, couldn't-get-any-worse-than-this moment and she's feeling it!  Despair, agony, defeat... all of those hackneyed and melodramatic words come into play here.  (Not sure if you actually need to use those words... what with it being better to show than tell and whatnot).  

Point 5 - Your character at the End of Act II, Part 2/ Beginning of Act III 
(AKA: Act II Turning PointPlot Point 2, or Second Doorway of No Return)
  • This is such an awesome point in the story.  Here your character has had time to reflect on how things got so bad in the reversal, and she finally admits to herself that she needs to change if she is going to ever truly succeed.  This anticipation of this turning point is what has been driving the story from the beginning.  Without a realization of her flaw, and a desire to overcome it, she will not have any character arc.

Point 6 - Your character at the Climax
  • I haven't spoken about climaxes yet and that's for the simple fact that we haven't come that far in our 30 day journey.  A brief explanation:  this is the point where we get to see the character - oozing maturity and coolness from all of her new-found, hard won, wisdom - put into practice what she has learned along her journey.  She is going to be confronting her antagonist in a final showdown, and if she hasn't figured out how to overcome her flaw, she has no chance at success.

Points 7 and 8 - Your character either succeeds or fails
  • Succeeds:  Show the new person your character has become now that she's proven to herself and the world how she has changed.
  • Fails:  Though your character may not reach the goal she hoped to attain at the start of the story, she has learned and grown through her experiences.  

For more on character emotional development see this fantastic article.

MY DAY 29:  Nothing unusual to report.  I just kept at it and made slow progress. 


  1. I found your blog through Rachel's personal blog and I have enjoyed reading through the archives immensely:) There is so much useful information here that I feel truly blessed to have have "stumbled" upon Mommy Authors. I'm so excited and will be a regular visitor, I'm sure.

    I gave you an award over on my blog, if you want to take a peek at it, you can see it here:

  2. Thanks Ink in the Book! I'm so happy our little blog has pleased you so well!

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you Britney! And thanks for leaving a comment so I can feel the love :)