Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ask O Wednesday: What Exactly Is a Character Arc?

Happy Wednesday, my writing friends!

We writers cherish our jargon, don't we? POV, story question, exposition, black moment, etc. Non-writers must find this all very baffling! I've found that writing lingo can sometimes baffle the best of us. So from time to time, I try to remind myself what these pearls actually mean, why they are important, and how to use them.

So, today let's zero in on that highfalutin term--character arc. Nothing rivals character for the Most-Important-Element-In-a-Novel Award, so it must be important, but ...

What Is It? 
Think big picture. A character's journey from the git-go to the end, and all the challenges, victories, and events in between. A well-developed arc will show the character's beginning, then move to rising action, which gains intensity with each scene, until it reaches the climax, and then finish up with the denouement (another bit of writer's jargon) or resolution.

When first developing a character, I actually doodle an arc on a piece of paper and jot down my thoughts about what will happen to him. I start with the actions, the bits of external conflict, the physical obstacles, but then ...

A Funny Thing Happened 
Once I dig into the plot points, the internal conflict naturally begins to flow. It's like the traumatic external events force my poor character to reveal her insecurities to me. Soon, these take over and the character arc becomes much more than just a diagram of events, but a portrait of her soul's journey. 

It's Gold! 
That's why a character arc is so vital, not merely because it helps organize and develop plot points (although that's awesome too), but because it sparks the creation of the inner journey that makes an okay novel a best seller. It generates traits in my hero that spark emotional depth--and that will make readers care. We want them to care, yes? 

And How!
Realizing the existence of both an external and internal journey, you may be tempted to create two character arcs, one for each aspect. This may work for some, but I tried it, and it really goofed me up. By attempting to segregate the inner and outer paths, my character ended up losing touch with my plot. Besides, life isn't that way. Situations in life--losing a job, having a baby, signing a book contract--affect our emotional journey. God made us that way, so I try to remember that when I'm molding characters. The external and internal weave around each other, affecting, changing, and sometimes blocking each other. 

How do you create your story arc? I'd love to here. 

Don't forget to leave your questions for future Ask O Wednesday in the comments. 

Happy Writing! 


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