How To: Use A Character Arc

Character arcs are one of those things that the “how to write” books tell you you need in order to develop a character that will suck your reader in and empty their pockets buying all the sequels. Not so much in those words but “how to write” advice seems to be mostly about maximising profit rather than playing around with a hobby for fun. (If that’s your game then great, I may sound bitter but it’s only because I’m jealous.)

A character arc is their journey through your book. Essentially they need to have goals and aims that evolve as events in your book force them to grow or change. Then they need some kind of resolution at the end.

I found it easiest to plot out a character arc alongside my story plot – if I went down this route of planning, that is. I use various planning methods, the more the merrier. Anything to put off writing the actual story because for me, this is the part I enjoy most.

  • Initial goals & conflicts – these are their personal aspirations that they have before the story begins and also what is holding them back from having it already.
  • Inciting incident – story plot point
  • New goal & conflicts – how does this incident affect or replace initial story goals
  • Setbacks – various events that prevent your character from achieving their old or new goals (this will most likely be made up of your plot points if you are the type of writer that really likes to make your characters struggle – mwah  ha ha haaa)
  • Any new goals? – this is your character’s growth. They may have changed their personal aspirations or their story goals dependent on the plot. Or maybe not. Perhaps staying true to themselves is more important.
  • Resolution – again this will coincide with your plot points. Tie up all the questions you have raised about your character, or maybe leave some of the lesser ones open for a sequel. Or a big question, it’s your story. Don’t listen to the experts if it doesn’t fit with what you want to say. Let the publishers persuade you otherwise!

The best methods for drawing out your arc are:

  • physically draw out the arc, an artistic impression of your character and any other details you feel are relevant here. Use lots of lots of A2 paper and then plaster used sheets over the walls in your writing office / space. Contemporary, quirky wallpaper – great stuff.
  • use an Excel spreadsheet. (or Google Sheets also work) Is it just me that loves creating forms to print out and fill in by hand. Yes? *hangs head*
  • write it out as a list in your notebook using as many different colours as your pencil case allows. Optional: if you find your list is in monochrome then treat yourself to a nice set of multi-coloured fineliner pens.

I hope the above gives you some inspiration for avoiding writing for at least another day.

Happy writing x

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