Writing The Character Arc

Last post we considered the story question, which defines the things the main character will or won’t do in order to overcome obstacles and reach a goal. Story arc is a way of explaining that journey. But what about the character’s personal arc?
Writing Tip for Today: When writers refer to a character arc, they are usually talking about ways the character feels, thinks, acts and reacts to the environment in which he or she is set. Think of these things as you write your character’s story:

  • Make it a Journey. Your character should learn, grow and change over the course of the story. But as in life, these changes should be either gradual or near the story’s climax (as in an epiphany), If you make the changes too soon or too quickly readers feel as if the story is over before you want them to think so. Try making a chart of the emotional range of your character to see how that character changes over the course of the story.
  • Add in a Secret. Secrets create tension. If you allow your readers to know a character’s secret but not the other characters, it creates a different type of tension than if you hide the secret from the reader too. Make your decision based on your genre and plot line. To figure out a good secret for your character, try writing a letter from your character to you, detailing what it is. Don’t think about this much–just “channel” that character’s voice onto the page. Warning: this may be background material–not really meant for the body of the work, but meant for you the writer to understand.
  • Rising Action, Rising Tension. A good story arc involves rising action–each scene builds on and compounds the earlier scene’s tension. If you wrote a story where the climax scene was at the beginning and then tried to explain how the character came to that point, good luck keeping your reader beyond that first bit. Save the best of your character’s growth or change for last.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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