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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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So You Want To Write A Book? Part 2: Characters #writingtips #authorgoals

This is the second in my series about writing your first book. I’ve spoken with so many people who yearn to put words to paper (okay, computer) but really don’t know where to begin. Since I had to learn it the hard, painful way, I’d like to save some of you the stress and heartache.

Last week, we talked about your “Big Idea” and how it can translate into an overall theme. You can read it here:
https://eroticromancewriting.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/so-you-want-to-write-a-book-part-one-the-idea-writingtips/

This week, we’re going to talk about characters. For me, a book needs great characters. If I care about the characters, I’ll overlook poor plot every time. I want a character who makes me fall in love with them. I want to care desperately about what happens to them.

Some people start writing and know very little about their characters. Some fill out detailed character sheets before they write a word. Where do I fit? Comfortably in the middle. You need to know enough about your character to get going, but you don’t need to know every freakin’ thing that ever happened to them in their childhood including if they preferred X-Files to Smurfs.
Personally, I liked X-files…

Start with your character’s name, age, and physical characteristics. Then add in their background. Did they grow up, rich, middle class, or poor? Married parents or divorced? Were they the smart kid in school or barely skate by? Did they play sports?
Now, how did this background shape their worldview? I had a character whose parents were drifters who rarely worked. The family often lived out of their car and didn’t always have enough to eat. It made her a workaholic who felt money and security was the key to happiness. Maybe your character grew up in a comfortable, middle class family out of Leave it to Beaver. Would this make them naive? Maybe restless?
What is their greatest fear? For Casey, my character above, being poor and hungry was her greatest fear.
What is their greatest desire? Casey wanted security and love, something in short supply in her childhood.
This is a pretty good start. If your character is a “bad guy/girl”, these items are still important. Make your villains three dimensional by not making them all bad. A friend of mine has a saying, “Even Hitler love his dog.” Crude, but it makes a point. Your villain will be less believable if he’s all evil.
Hey, I know. No one enjoys writing an evil guy more than I do. Let’s face it. The bad guys can be really fun to write. But, they’ll seem less cartoonish if there’s a speck of humanity in them. Maybe the bad guy loves his mother or his kids. Maybe the bad girl is wreaking havoc for revenge of someone she loved.
Oh, and your heroes and heroines. Don’t make ’em so perfect we want to take a sledge hammer to them. (See villain’s motivation above) Maybe they have a temper? Maybe they’re insecure or they’re an adrenaline junkie scaring the you know what out of their loved ones? Personally, I love a wounded hero. Someone who is damaged by life, but finds the courage and the love to move on with their life.
So, you now you know your characters? Write it down. Trust me. You’re going to be writing your story and come to a fork in the road. Would my character do this… or that? Or perhaps you have the dreaded “writer’s block”? Maybe you’re trying to get your characters to do something they simply don’t want to do. Let the character talk to you. As you find out more about your character, make a note. I just finished writing a book where one of the heroes grew up poor with a single mother but got a scholarship to Harvard. I knew he wasn’t ashamed of being poor but when I typed the line “Being poor was the best thing that ever happened to me”… Heck, even I was surprised.

Okay, got your characters? Next time, we’ll talk about character arcs. In other words, how will your character grow and change during your story.
Thanks for reading this! Happy Writing!!

So You Want To Write A Book? Part One: The Idea #writingtips

I recently celebrated my one year anniversary as a published writer. I thought I would do a series of posts regarding writing your first book and the things I’ve learned along the way. Today’s post is about The Idea.

So, you think you want to write a book? You’ve got this great idea and you can’t convince anyone else to write it for you, so you’re going to have to write it yourself. Don’t laugh… invariably when I tell someone I am a writer, they start telling me about this great idea for a book they have. They end it with “You should write that book.”

Um, no. YOU should write that book. I have too many ideas as it is and can barely keep them straight.

But I digress… so you have your great idea. Step one… write it down. Yeah, seems like a simple thing doesn’t it? Do it. Open a Word doc or write it in a notebook, but write it down.

I have a pretty red notebook where I keep all my book ideas, characters, names I like, titles that intrigue me, and high level outlines. It’s all in one place and it’s portable. It’s old school, but that’s me. If you want to keep it on your iPad, rock on. Just write it down.

When you’re writing it down, boil the idea down to the THEME. What’s a theme? It’s the message of the book or the universal idea that runs through the entire story. For example, “Finding hope after tragedy”, “Circle of Life”, “Coming of Age”, “Love conquers All”.

Write your theme down, too. Why? Because when you are sitting at your computer, pulling your hair out, not sure what to write next, re-visiting your theme can really help you out. It gets you back to what your book is REALLY about. Perhaps, as the characters take over, the book got off track and now you’re stuck. Re-visit your theme and pull the car back on the road.

Good work! My next post will discuss characters. Building them, bringing them to life, and creating character arcs.

Thank you and Happy Wednesday!