CHARACTER ARC

The main character in any story needs to transform in some way or the story doesn’t go anywhere. If the main character remains the same throughout, there isn’t any story.

The narrative tells the story of how the main character grows or changes. But the character may not develop or change but remain even more intensely the same, that is, recommitted to the way he or she is at the beginning of the story. This is harder to write than a story in which there is clear character growth or change.

In a clear character arc, the narrative is the story of the change to the main character. Ths may happen through experience, the learning of new skills or simply through the passage of time. The character starts out in one way, and throughout the story, he grows and changes. The narrative arc of the story is that of the main character’s growth, however it is accomplished.]

But in some stories, there seems to be no change in the character, no character arc. The main character remains who he or she was at the beginning throughout the story. But, when you read the story carefully, you see that there is character movement. The character does not perceptibly change, but becomes even more steadfastly what he was at the outset.

A class I was in read a novella by Cynthia Ozick called THE SHAWL It’s the heartbreaking story of a woman in a concentration camp who has only the shawl which held her now-dead baby and its smell as a memory. The class members, as I remember, argued with the teacher that there was no discernable character arc in the novella, that she had not changed from beginning to end, and that this was a flaw, but as we talked, we saw that the essence of the story was the protagonist’s steadfast memory of her child and her commitment to that memory.

My novel PSYCHIC DAMAGE is a story of growth and change. In that story, Eva Stuart, addicted to allowing advice from psychics to guide her life and unable or unwilling to make decisions on her own, learns to be strong and independent, to make decisions and even to rescue her partner when he is kidnapped. Her character arc is clear.

This is more difficult to do in a series because the changes are often incremental and not as striking as they would be in a standalone novel. Still, within each story in a series, the protagonist, who doesn’t start out being perfect, gains new knowledge and becomes more adept at what he or she does.

For example, in the first book in my Florida series, A REASON TO KILL, the protagonist, Andi Battaglia, new on her job as a detective, learns through her work on the case to question suspects, evaluate informations for its truth or falsity and determine the solution to the murder. In the second book in the series, SO MANY REASONS TO DIE, Andi defies her supervisior in the hunt for the murderer, ending up suspended from duty but solving the murder.

How do those of you who write series create the incremental changes that contribute to the growth of your character? Do you find it difficult to do and do you plan those changes ahead or do they occur as the novel progresses?

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About casojka123

I grew up in New York and moved to California when I was in my twenties. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa and when I returned I got a master's degree from the University of Southern California. I worked as the administrator in a public law office, and now I write mystery novels of the "whodunit", multiple suspect, police procedural variety. I live in a small town in Southern California with my husband and two dogs.
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One Response to CHARACTER ARC

  1. lindamthorne says:

    I don’t have the experience a lot of authors have with just my one book, but I’ve also published numerous short stories. Some of the stories I write, fall flat and I never finish. When I do finish a story (or like when I finished my debut novel), the character is transformed in one or many ways. I honestly don’t know how I did this transformation because I’m not studying the mechanics of it or even thinking about it when I write the story. It just seems to be that there is no story if my character hasn’t learned, realized, or changed her life in a major way. I agree with you that this transformation is necessary. Good post.

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