Creating Your Character’s Arc
With NaNoWriMo just a few weeks away, I’m working feverishly to get my next book plotted and ready to go so that on November 1 (well, okay, November 4 because November 1 is a holiday where I live and I’m taking that weekend) I’ll be ready to hit the page typing—kind of like hitting the road running, but… you get it.
So, last week we talked about the Hero’s Journey, an amazing and wonderful type of story structure. This week, I want to discuss character arcs because without that, you won’t be able to plot your character-driven story. It’s really vital that you get those character arcs perfected because they are going to be your plot. So how do you do that? Here we go…
- Decide on who your character is in generalized terms—what archetype they fit into (for a great list of archetypes created by Tami Cowden click here).
You probably already have a good idea of this in you head. You have your idea for your story and you know what sort of characters would need to populate that story to make it come to life. So, who are they?
- Discover your character’s goal, motivation, and conflict
Everyone has a goal. Characters especially need a specific goal—well, two actually, an internal goal and an external one. Once you know what those goals are, you need to explore where the need to attain those goals comes from—the motivation. To do that forces you to learn more about your character’s history, their childhood or other life experience which led them to needing to achieve this goal. And then you need to shift back to the present day of the character’s life and discover what’s stopping your character from attaining this goal—the conflict.
Already, you know a great deal more about your character. By exploring their background, they are becoming real people with real life experiences. This is good! The more real they are to you, the more real they will be to your readers.
- How does your character need to grow in your book? What do they need to learn?
Don’t write a paragraph here, write a sentence. It needs to be short and concise—specific.
Now you know the three most important points of your protagonist:
- What sort of person they are
- What they want for themselves
- What you want for them
Now you’re ready to build your character’s arc.
They start where they are now, at the inciting event, which is going to throw a wrnch into their ordinary life and force them to do something else. This may be the impetus that makes them start either or both of their own goals. Although the motivation for those goals may have come from their past life, something in the beginning of your book, some event makes your character think that now is the time to go after those goals. They also need to believe that the goals are attainable—why else go after them if they’re not.
We then move into our regular sort of story structure—things happen that either move our character toward or away from their goals.
What you need to do, to start, is to discover what major events need to happen that will lead your character to learning what they need to learn, to changing the way you want them to change.
The two sets of goals—yours and the characters’—mesh and build together to form your character’s arc. It begins where they are, it ends with them wiser, having learned, grown, and changed in the way you know they need. You just need to figure out what external events they need to experiences to get there. And that is your plot!
Well, it’s one piece of your plot. The other pieces are the scenes needed for any other primary characters to grow and any genre specific plotlines (romance, mystery, fantasy, etc) to happen. But it’s best to intertwine them so that one scene has more than one purpose.
Ha! Yeah, now get to work!