So You Want To Write A Book? Part 3 – Character Arcs #writingtips

This is part three of our So You Want To Write A Book series.  So many people tell me they want to write a book, but simply don’t know how to get started.

There is no “one way” to write a book.  What I’m sharing is simply a method that’s worked for me.  It may or may not work for you.  Tweak it, make it your own.

So… here we go!  Last week, we discussed creating characters. This week we’re going to talk about character arcs.

What is a character arc and why is it important? 

I’m so glad you asked.   According to Wikipedia, A character arc is the status of the character as it unfolds throughout the story, the storyline or series of episodes. Characters begin the story with a certain viewpoint and, through events in the story, that viewpoint changes.

In other words, you character should change and grow.  Hopefully, for the better.  Your readers want to see and feel this growth.  You want to create characters that people care about, root for, and have an emotional investment.

Yes, some characters don’t change and grow.   Usually, these characters are in high-concept, action movies such as Die Hard, Rambo, or Terminator.  The end the movie they are pretty much the same person they started the movie as.   But, it’s hard to write a book without character growth, even if you are not writing a “character driven” book.

Can I pause for a moment to tell you how much I hate those terms?  Character driven versus Plot driven?

You have to have both, people.  You can’t have a book without a plot, or characters.  You need both.  You can lean the book one way or the other, but you can’t get away with leaving one out.

Whew!  Thank you for letting me vent.  Okay, so where were we?  Oh yes, change and grow.  Your characters need to evolve and grow.  How do they do this?  By the action in the story.

This is starting to sound like plot. 

Kind of.  As you decide what your character arc is going to be, it will affect your plot.  Don’t get the two confused!  If your character at the beginning of the book is afraid to open herself up to love and at the end you want her to be in love with someone… hey, something is going to have to happen to her to get her there.  That’s going to be part of your plot.

See how this is all intertwined?

I always decide on my character arcs before I do my plotting.  It makes plotting easier.  If you’re a pantser, understanding your characters growth will make it easier to write also.

Let’s do some together.  It’s a little clichéd, but let’s take the tortured hero who has been unlucky in love and cannot bring himself to love again.  It just hurts too much.   At the end of the book, you want him firmly in the arms of your heroine.  Something is going to have to happen to change your hero’s mind.

  • He has to get to know the heroine.  In our plot, we need to get them to spend some time with each other.  Preferably, he’ll see how trustworthy and wonderful she is.
  • Perhaps he could face his past by his ex coming back into the picture?
  • Perhaps he could almost lose the heroine to another man?
  • Perhaps he could almost lose the heroine to an accident or illness?
  • Perhaps a mentor or friend could talk sense into him?

We could go on for a while here.  The character arcs will help dictate what needs to happen in the plot.  Not all of it, of course, but some of it.

Just remember, the more character arcs you have going in a book, the more you will have to “tie up” by the end.  Don’t have ten characters all growing in a different way.  Yeah, The Big Chill was a great movie and each character had an arc, but it’s probably best not to try it on your first book.  (Just my two cents)

Character arcs don’t have to be big, and dramatic.  I like to choose growth arcs which are universal in nature.  Low self-esteem, bad relationships,  lousy careers, fear of getting older, fear of change, fear of death, impulsive personality to more deliberate, caution to spontaneity, are a few.   They’ve all been done before so don’t kill yourself trying to think up something new.  It’s the spin you’ll take that will make it fresh and new.

By the way, not all your characters need a growth arc.  Some of my books are menage, and I always have one “fully formed” character.   My secondary characters generally don’t have arcs either.  I save them for my main characters.

Well, that’s it for character arcs.  Next week, we’re going to talk about plotting.  Thanks for stopping by!

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