by Alison Clifford
Character arcs are one of the essentials of any and every story.
What is a character arc? It can be summed up as the character’s internal journey through the story. It’s what changes within them, what makes them different from the way they were at the beginning. There may not be much change—it may only be how they have dealt with previously unknown situations and how they reacted.
This change can result from lots of things, but it links with what I wrote about characters fears and cares. It could be a fear they must overcome or a belief that is proven wrong, and they have to accept a new truth.
The arc happens as the character overcomes or adapts to achieve their goals.
An example of this is Warren in Roses (hey, I know my own characters better than any others!). At the start of the book Warren believes emotions are his enemy, and he must keep them under control and hidden to be strong. As the story continues he must learn to show emotion if he is going to achieve happiness, and in doing so, realises emotions don’t erode a person’s strength, but add to it. The Warren at the start of the story is quite different to the Warren at the end—his character arc has been completed.
Why are character arcs important? If a character doesn’t change at all, or never has to face a new experience to which they must adapt, they will be boring and uninteresting.
I have found with my own writing that I don’t usually need to think of an arc for the main characters—it happens naturally as part of the story. The only thing I do is once the draft is finished is find ways to make sure the arc is noticeable, i.e. ensure the arc is defined in some way by ensuring the characteristics affected by the arc are described, e.g. Warren recalling his estranged wife saying being married to him was “Like being married to an iceberg”.
Character arcs need to be kept in mind, but you may find they will occur naturally with little or no forethought. Either way, when you come to edit any story, make sure the arcs are there for your main characters.
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