Character Arcs and why you should get to know your Main Character!

Have you ever stayed with a book until the last sentence and realized the main character was as dull as white bread? She, or he, never changed? Well, I just read such a book. Typically, I would give up by the second chapter but the reviews for this particular book were so glowing that I trusted the MC would spark a bit of life. Nope. Reading her journey was like reading a pamphlet about watching paint dry.

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Character Arcs can change up or down, but they MUST change.

For those of you new to this writing gig, allow me to clarify the definition of a Character Arc. A Character Arc is the change a character goes through as she/he passes through the story. That’s it! No big mystery. Character Arc can be positive, negative, or they can remain unchanged, which I call flat-liners.

Let’s peek at the new Jack Reacher movie, Never Go Back (spoiler alert). Jack moves through a positive arc and by the end of the movie learns to give another human being a place in his heart. No, not a love interest. You’ll have to watch the movie to understand.

In other words, Jack goes through a positive arc. Scrooge travels through a positive arc as he realizes the error of his ways. As did Darth Vader.

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Aw, he was nice all along. He didn’t mean to kill those millions of innocent people.
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Angel had a positive Character Arc. Damn, I miss this show.

Some characters travel negative arcs.

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Check out the movie Chatroom.

And some characters remain unchanged. They are whom they are from beginning to end. Yup. Indie is a flat-liner. The story still worked, thanks to the genius of Steven Spielberg.

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Bottom line? A character must have an arc or you, the author, won’t have a story worth reading.

By now, you might be wondering how to ensure your MC has an arc. It’s easy. Talk to her. Ask questions. My favorites–Why? and How? Here’s an example. Let’s say your MC wants to move to a new town.

Writer: Why?

MC: I want change.

Writer: Why?

MC: My life in this town is suffocating me.

Writer: Why?

MC: Because everyone has known me since I was a little girl. I’m a woman now. I’m different.

Writer: How?

MC: I’ve matured. I look at the world as a place to explore. They don’t accept this new part of me.

Writer: Why?

MC: They’re caught up in the past. They never change. They never grow. They never even travel beyond the city limits.

Even after a brief interaction with your MC, you should see the twists and turns of your story and your character’s goal(s). The MC needs to flee life in the small town. Perhaps the residents practice strange rituals on the full moon. Or always reference how cute she was, even when she’s on a date. Maybe there’s a strange force keeping the residents prisoner and the MC has to free them from its clutches.

I’m not saying this is the best example, but at least I tried.

The important thing to remember is that you’re trying to flesh out your character. Give her life–flesh, bones, actions, thoughts, reasons. When our characters become real, the reader becomes part of the story. So ask your main character questions. Lots and lots of questions. Interview them. You might be surprised what you learn.

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So, tell me, why do you wear scary make-up?

I love to read comments. Authors, do you interview your characters? Readers, what do you think about Character ARCs?

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Blessed be, :} T.C.