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Are you wondering how to write a character arc and make your novel more compelling?
Do you struggle with knowing how to make your characters more interesting?
Do you even know what a character arc is? (Many don’t)
Do you want the secret behind how to write a character arc that will have your readers hooked on your books?
Knowing how to write a character arc is a vital skill for your novel writing that will keep your readers coming back for more.
You’ll be the safe bet where your readers will know they can trust you to deliver the goods.
You will learn all about character arcs and some examples to get you thinking and doing so.
You’ll be confident at writing compelling characters arcs in your next story…
This blog post is all about how to write a character arc.
I went to find out how much of my audience knew about character arcs so when I’m talking to them I can gauge as to how much I might be able to help them.
I asked Twitter:
Do you know what a character arc is?
83% said Yes
17% said No
Do you find it difficult to write a compelling character arc?
67% said Yes
33% said No
I asked the readers:
Do you enjoy a book more when it has a good character arc?
75% said Yes
6% said No
19% said Not bothered
As we can see from the results, a lot of people know what a character arc is if they’re among the writing community, but 67% said they found it really difficult to implement.
So this blog post will, hopefully, tell you everything you need to know about how to write a compelling character arc and why it’s so important in the story. We have used these tried and tested nuggets of advice in all of our book series, including The Shona Jackson Series and The DI Rachel Morrison Series.
What is a character arc?
A good character arc definition is: the transformation or an inner journey of a character over the course of a story. So think of it as they start off as one kind of person and then, in the end, they display characteristics of a more evolved person.
“The character begins as one sort of person and gradually transforms into a different sort of person in response to change in developments in the story.” ( Wikipedia.)
It’s simply the difference between who your character was at the beginning of the story and who he or she is by the end.
I like to think of them as opposites.
Do they go from good to bad?
Scared to brave?
Enemy to a friend?
The purpose of a character arc:
A character arc maps the evolution of a person through a story.
It’s a term that writers use to describe their character’s journey from a place of comfort as in, where are they at the moment?
What is their everyday like?
To then the rapid change and back again, hence an arc.
In a story, think if we didn’t have a character arc. How boring would that story be, especially with the main character if they literally stayed the same the whole way through?
It’d be very predictable.
Would YOU want to watch that movie or read that book?
In life, we go through adversities and we come through them and it makes life more interesting. So if you went through every day the same, life will be boring just like your story would be boring.
The difference with fiction obviously, is we can control it. And if you want to make it more exciting, we can make the character arc more different. So the start and the finish are more opposite.
Character arc examples
If you’ve seen the movie, The Usual Suspects,(There are some spoiler alerts in here so I won’t say the name of the character) but there’s a certain character where everybody believes him.
He’s very shy. He has a disability. He can’t walk very well, but in the arc at the end, he ends up being responsible for some serious stuff and he’s running the show.
So if you saw him at the very beginning, he’s the character that’s in the background. You wouldn’t ask him to do anything exciting. You don’t think that he’s got anything to give but, by the end of it, you fear him because of what he’s capable of.
There’s no choice.
So if you saw him at the very beginning side-by-side to how he is at the end, they’re completely different characters.
It’s the same character but he’s displaying completely different traits because of the journey that he’s gone on.
So those are some of the best character arcs in TV and film.
Can you think of any more?
What is the Hero’s Journey?
So I got this definition from masterclass.com, but the hero’s journey is a common narrative archetype or story template that involves a hero who goes on an adventure, learns a lesson, wins a victory, has newfound knowledge and then returns home transformed.
That’s the most important word- “transformed.”
The hero’s journey can be boiled down to three essential stages:
The departure: the hero leaves the familiar world behind; the initiation: the hero learns to navigate the unfamiliar world.
The return: the hero returns to the familiar world but they are transformed.
So if we just break it down even more.
The departure: the hero leaves the familiar world behind. So this is who the hero or the main character starts off as.
So if there’s somebody who’s scared of everything, you could show how they’re scared. It could be of the dark or even when the phone rings they tremble.
But they’ve got to do something – a task of some kind.
They get put in a difficult situation where they have to start facing their fear.
And it’s that facing the fear which would lead them into the departure.
The initiation would be where the character starts to understand that they’ve got to take on these new traits in order to survive and that surviving could be subjective to whatever genre you’re writing.
The return would be that they’ve fought all these battles, whether they’re external battles or inner battles, but they return and they’re a transformed character.
And it’s the transformation that will keep your readers hooked. So visit masterclass.com and you’ll find out a lot more information on this.
Character arc template:
You can find these already drawn for you in our book, “How to Write a Novel from Scratch.”
How to write a good character arc?
A compelling character arc is a character facing fears and overcoming challenges as the story unfolds, usually resulting in the character’s personal growth.
So start off knowing your character’s strengths and weaknesses and what their goal is.
A quick way to think would be what would be the complete opposite to this?
Like I’ve said before if someone is really petrified, they’re scared of everything, they’re very introverted, they might even get bullied. So that would be how they start off.
But due to circumstances beyond their control (which is part of the plot), they have to start facing fears. And through winning these challenges, they start to change, which would happen in real life, wouldn’t it?
With show not tell, you would maybe start to see them speaking up for people that they wouldn’t normally do before but because they’ve got more confidence due to the battles that they have faced, you’ll start to show them in situations and volunteering for situations they wouldn’t normally do before.
The reader would be saying in their head, “Wow, this is awesome. They wouldn’t normally have the courage to do this.”
The reader is buying into the hero’s journey.
How to write character arcs
We can break this down further.
Your main character/s – They’ve got to have the goal, the lie or the truth.
This was really well written by reedsy.com, I couldn’t improve on it
Every character needs to have a goal. This is, essentially, the plot.
This shy character needs to face this monster in order to save the world. That would be the goal.
And we come onto the next section.
The lie– So this could be a deeply rooted feeling they have about themselves or the world that stops them from reaching their true potential.
It could be a social construct, it could be class, it could something that somebody’s told them.
In order to reach their goal, they’ll need to acknowledge and overcome the lie by facing the next section, which is the truth.
The character arc is, is self-improvement. And this is achieved when they learn to reject the lie and embrace the truth.
When you think of your characters, write down the character arc, then write down your character’s goal, write down their lie and write down what their truth is.
And as long as you have in your head what the transformation going to be or how are your readers going to feel, you are well on your way to writing a really compelling character arc.
You could use our book to come up with compelling characters.
Think of if someone grew up poor and they’ve been told that they’ll never amount to anything, the goal is they need to make money to feed their family.
They might be losing their job and they’ve got no skills.
So the lie is that they’ve got a misconception about themselves that they’re really stupid or they’re no good, but they have to keep battling against this, whether they’re inner conflicts or external conflicts. Or it could be people physically telling them that, “Oh, you’re never going to amount to this,”.
But the truth is that, through self-improvement, they become famous, they become wealthy because they stumble upon something and they go all in and they achieve their goal, which is to make more money, to help their family and to help others.
It’s that transformation again that would make a really compelling character arc.
Character arc books
Our book, “How to Write a Novel from Scratch” includes absolutely everything you need to know how to write a character arc step by step.
So you don’t have to worry.
Refer back to this blog whenever you need.
Other books that will help you with character arcs are HERE.
So you’re probably thinking about how to write a compelling character in the first place?
The main thing whenever you’re writing a book is to make them human where the readers would be cheering them on.
Give your hero a specific goal that would be difficult to obtain.
Readers love characters who have a dream or a goal that they’re determined to achieve. So as long as you make it really clear at the beginning of what your main character needs, wants or has to overcome, the stronger the reader will want your main character to win.
They will be cheering them on!
Make the stakes high – REALLY HIGH!
Make your character have A LOT to lose.
If they don’t achieve that goal, somebody might die or they might lose their home, or something that a reader could empathize with.
We really need to care about what happens.
Story arc ideas for you
A man starts off as a playboy and he cheats, but falls in love and finds a girl he wants to marry and settles down. Along the way he realizes he has to change his ways and that might mean that he has to battle internally about his lies, which is, “You’re not good enough to have a wife who is very loving and beautiful,” and he doesn’t deserve that, but he has to battle these inner conflict because he will lose her.
A young boy starts off as poor, wants to help his mum who needs expensive medicines. That would be his goal. The boy has to learn to read and get a job. So the lie would be that he will never amount to anything, he’s stupid, he doesn’t deserve a good job. So he has to overcome that lie and he becomes rich and his mum lives. It could be happy ever after or it could be a tragedy. It all depends on the genre of your book.
Another example could be a woman who feels she cannot leave her husband. She feels weak. She has no confidence. She’s not allowed to go to work, but she secretly battles to work on herself, the self-improvement and the lie. She leaves the marriage and becomes stronger than ever. Maybe she runs for president or for Prime Minister..?
So these are some story arc ideas to get your teeth into.
There are more ideas HERE
How to actually write character arcs
Plan ahead first so you know what the character’s arcs are.
Is it rags to riches?
Is it scared to brave?
Show examples of where your character is now.
Then, looking at your plot points, get the characters to act out scenes to show not tell, the gradual change.
For example, if we take the boy who grew up poor, his goal is to earn more money and he knows he needs to get a job, but the lie is that he’s too stupid, he doesn’t deserve to get a job. He doesn’t deserve nice things.
He secretly starts to learn to read.
You could plan a scene where he sneaks into people’s bins to pick up their newspapers or books and maybe someone spots him and they start to teach him to read in secret.
That would show his willingness to overcome the lie. Then you would write all the different times that he does that. But obviously, to make it a more compelling story, it could be where he gets caught by his relatives or his dad or whoever has been spinning this lie and he gets in trouble so then he has to battle again to try to overcome the lie.
So let me know in the comments below how confident you are writing character arcs.
What books that you’ve got on the go and if there’s anything else that you’d want to know about.
Enjoy and good luck!
This post has been all about how to write a character arc.
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