For some of us, writing distinct characters is an intuitive process. Others like to plan their books down the last eyelash before they commit a single word to paper. Regardless of your approach to writing, every character needs an arc in order to be three dimensional, interesting, and believable.
So, what the heck is a character arc?
Your character’s arc is their trajectory through the plot, whether they make it to the end of the book or not (as in the case of some minor characters — or, you know, major ones if you’re name happens to be George R.R. Martin).
Figuring out the broad strokes of your plot is usually the easiest part of planning your novel. A leads to B leads to C, and so on. To pin down a character arc, we need to figure out how an individual character fits into these major plot events. I like to make a list of the big events using the Snowflake Method, and then attach a cast list to remind myself who is in those scenes, or affected by them.
The key events of any plot are:
- Inciting incident
- Rising Action
- Complications (as many as there are acts in your book)
If you’re in need of some kick-ass tools to help you with plotting the grand scope of your novel, check out The Pre-Write Project by Kristen of She’s Novel. It’s on sale as part of a six ebook bundle for just $17 until October 30th, so grab yours quick. The bundle also includes the Essential Guide to Character Creation, which is an awesome addendum to your Story Bible‘s character arc sheets.
No Character is Static
Every character should change in some way, big or small, during their time on the page. Real people are constantly evolving, shaped by daily events, and so too should fictional people.
Things to remember:
- Every character wants something
- Every character has something to lose
- Every character has something to fear
Ask yourself what these things are as you determine how your character’s arc will interweave with all the others.
Below is an example page from The Story Bible, a collection of template pages for keeping track of your book’s details. It’s not a plotting tool, but an organized record of your decisions and intentions for your plot, characters, settings, and magic/technology.
In this example, I’ve created a protagonist named Sarah. In the Description section, I’ve answered the three questions above: what Sarah wants, what she has to lose, and what she fears.
Below the description is a diagram of Sarah’s character arc. It represents her challenges and changes throughout the story. Her events are marked in black, compared to the events of the general plot, which are displayed in gold.
Worksheets like this can help keep a writer accountable for a character’s progression. No cast member will get left behind, forgotten about after the fifth chapter, nor will they stall and become static at some point before the climax. It’s a tool to remind you how and when a particular character is meant to face a challenge and evolve as a result.