How to Write Character Arcs

By on October 27, 2017
How to Write Character Arcs - Writer's

When it comes to excellent writing, your characters naturally play a massive part. Without fantastic, well-developed characters even the most exceptional plot on earth will fail to impress your readers. Your plot is the adventure that the readers follow, but the characters are what they invest in, and caring about what happens to them is what keeps your readers turning those pages.

Writing great character arcs is an art, and the better and more experienced you become as a writer, the easier it will be to naturally create these as you write. A character arc is how your character changes and evolves as the story develops, what they can learn and how they can grow because of what happens to them.

This doesn’t necessarily mean your character needs to follow a steady curve throughout your story. There are in fact, many different types of character arcs that can occur throughout. Some can be positive, some can be negative, and for them to be successful they need to align and fit in seamlessly with what is taking place in your story.

So what are the elements you need to include to create fantastic character arcs? Here are some you can try:

Your characters desire

Readers need to understand a character's desire and motivation early on in your book. What your character wants is the hook that draws readers in. It makes them invested in your book. They want your character to achieve their goals, they root for them (or not if your character is a villain perhaps). Setting this up from the outset will allow readers to feel connected to the character throughout their journey.

Establishing who they are

When you introduce a new character into the book, readers need to get a sense of who they are and why they are present. The more economically and effectively you can do this the better. Readers should be directed how to feel about a particular character from the outset. Their expectations of this character can then be met or destroyed depending on the kind of character arc you create.

You character's ghosts

The catalyst for your characters desires, actions and reactions lie within their ghosts. Readers need to understand what causes them to behave the way that they do. Understanding their histories and the things that haunt them and have shaped them to be who they are today are essential for creating empathy and understanding.

The catalyst of change

Your character arcs need to have a moment, an occurrence in the novel that motivates your characters to take action. What suddenly wakes them up or forces them to see things differently? To stop living the life they have been and want to live in another way? That moment is an opportunity to excite your readers and draw them further in, allowing them to invest even more in your characters and their world.

The obstacles and your characters reaction to them

Throughout your novel, your characters will come upon an obstacle, or obstacles that prevent them from reaching their goals. How your character reacts to these and overcomes them helps to develop your character arcs further. Do they always fight against them, remain positive, and act bravely? Or do they get scared, angry or want to give up? The reaction of your characters to the obstacles they are presented with, show the reader how they are changing, or how much they still have to learn.

The Climax

The climax should pinpoint the very essence of your story. It is the reason you wrote it and reveals to the reader why your character's journey was so necessary and why it was worth all the pain, heartache, loss, drama. Or in the case of an unhappy ending, why it was not.

The Resolution

In the final part of your book, you must tie up loose ends, and show the reader how the character’s world has changed, and what this might mean for them going forward. Your resolution should leave your reader in no doubt about whether the journey was successful and how they should feel towards that character now.

You can use these points to help you create a character that goes on a real journey throughout your book, and at the end, has changed, either for the better or, the worse. Making sure you pay attention to character arcs in your novel will ensure that your characters don’t just remain flat and that you are always in tune with what happens to them and making them active and present in your story.

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

Bethany Cadman -author of 'Doctor Vanilla's Sunflowers'

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