Character Arc: Bubbling in the Background

Monday, June 6, 2011

I got my next-book-in-line-for-publication back after the first edit.  Mostly, I’ve been accepting changes and there are a few sections I need to rework so that they happen in real time, instead of how I originally penned them. 

What fascinated me in reading through this novel is the character arc.  If I didn’t know what that was before, I certainly know now. 

My heroine is Camille, who is an efficient, tightly-wound woman.  She doesn’t trust men because of her irresponsible father and the roller-coaster-like relationships her girlfriends have.

The hero, Quinn, is smitten by Camille, but has his own issues with his father, who mostly ignored him during his formative years. He also wondered whether he had the stick-to-it-iveness needed to woo a woman who clearly had a low opinion of him.

The editor remarked about eight chapters in that he liked the characters and the story. I thought ‘yeah me!’, but apart from them being likeable it was an experience over these weeks watching them evolve from a place of distrust and resentment to move toward forgiveness and acceptance.

Their individual circumstances forced Camille and Quinn to make certain choices. And it was in the making of these decisions that they showed their mettle. Both Camille and Quinn are decisive people who take action without waiting around for challenges to get more complex.

Camille started out giving Quinn no quarter. However, as kidnapping, blackmail and murder overtook them, she was forced to admit that Quinn wasn’t quite the stereotypical-good-looking-skirt-chasing man she first assessed him to be.  

Quinn had to exercise patience just through being around Camille to support her during difficult times. His fortitude eventually made her reassess her initial opinions of him. 

Of course, I had the obligatory ex in there who made things awkward for these two.  This was another area in which my girl had to put the brakes on and learn how to trust that her man wouldn’t fall into bed with the other woman simply because she was willing and available.

So over the thirty-five chapters of this novel I watched my two main characters overcome their weaknesses and fight quirks that made them hard to live with. I watched them deal with situations that tested their belief systems even while they were called on to bolster others around them during difficult situations.

Without these imperfections their story wouldn’t have been quite as interesting and they both would not have had room to grow. And that’s part of what enthralls readers, watching characters grow and mature and overcome what sometimes feel like insurmountable problems.

What’s also fascinating is that as we mature as writers, we learn to unconsciously mould our characters and help them work through their problems, so that they emerge as more rounded and triumphant people at the end of our stories. In a way, writing is like preparing a meal. You know when that gravy or soup is left to simmer until it's just the right thickness? 

Everything has to slowly come together in a tale that whets the appetite. My hero/heroine cannot end his/her story as the same person the reader met on page one. Otherwise, there will be no lessons learned and what would then be the point of telling their story? 

Do your consciously plan this aspect of your novels or do your characters naturally follow a path of growth to emerge as better individuals on that last page?


  1. I don't plan these things. Somehow, my characters just evolve and grow on their own. Also, as my books are part of a series, I guess my characters grow more slowly than if I wrote standalones.

    Camille and Quinn sound fascinating. Can't wait to meet them!

  2. Shirley,

    I think your characters know what to do because you're a skilled writer.
    Hopefully, Camille and Quinn will be in print sometime later this year.

  3. I don't plan. I should, but I don't. Sometimes the characters go in ways I never expected. That's usually when it gets really interesting.

  4. Great post. I consciously think about my characters psyche and how they would react and change as the events unfold :O)

  5. Liz, I've gotten to the point where I plan what I can because it saves me time and a lot of energy I'd spend editing afterwards.

    Thaanks, Madeleine. We do know our characters better if we think about how they'd react in various situations.

  6. Some of each, I think. And it varies from story to story. Sometimes they need a little nudge, and sometimes they do it all on their own.

  7. I do plan the arc of each of my characters. While I outline, I think about the characters a lot. I write about them, too. As a result of outlining the story and considering the characters, I end up having a good idea of the path each will follow by the time I am reading to scratch out the first draft.

  8. I don't plan that much. My characters sorta grow on their own. Of course, this always means new revisions. But, wow, your newest book sounds interesting! I love a good mystery romance with interesting characters, and this sounds like one!

  9. Carol, I guess some are more malleable than others.

    Cynthia, amazing how thoroughly some of us plan while some like me kind of just skim the surface before I really get going.

    Elizabeth, these two did have some exciting adventures on their way to becoming a committed pair.

  10. Thanks for sharing a great post. It's awesome the way you shared your character's journeys and depicted the growth in their arcs.

    It's easier to plan beforehand, but sometimes the characters take you on an uncharted path.

  11. I do plan some, but not enough. I know how my character is at the beginning and I know how I want him/her to be at the end. How they get to that point, what things stand in the way, what problems they have to overcome, those are things I don't usually plan for, though I probably should.

  12. I don't normally plan my character evolution--well, maybe I do. I don't know. I need to explore this a little more. I know where my character is at the beginning of the story and I know where they need to be by the end, and so as I write they slowly grow and change in the process. Does that make any sense?

    For the most part, my characters sit on my shoulders and TELL me what they want and what they would do. I toss situations at them and they swim through them and become better for it. Again, does that make any sense?

    "The difference between schizophrenics and writers is that schizophrenics take medicine to silence the voices. Writers pull out a pen and write down everything the voices say, AND then try to sell it."

  13. I think the process of change is an organic part of the story that just comes naturally to a storyteller. Without growth or disintegration of a character there is really not much of a story.

    Tossing It Out

  14. Nas, it is interesting when an interesting path opens up based on what the character wants to do. I'll follow their lead as long as it makes the story better.

    Bish, sometimes the unexpected events are what throws additional spark into the storyline. I feel I should plan more as well, but it usually doesn't happen like that. Hardware is about the only story I've written where I sat down and thought about exactly what should happen next chapter and wrote out a few sentences. Mostly, I do a mixture of one line of planning and a chapter of inventing. :D

    Angela, that quotation made me laugh out loud. That's make us writers have some form of mental challenge in common.

    Your method does make sense and it leaves some fun and adventure in while the writing is going on.

    Arlee, thanks for dropping in. I think you're right. Somehow, writers learn along the way and some instinctively know what to do to shape characters that tell a compelling tale.

  15. I do plan before writing, but I find that the essence of the story and characters emerge through the writing process.

    I tagged you in my post today! You don't have to play; I just thought you'd like to see it. :) Have a great weekend!

  16. That's a great way of describing how you followed your characters' development once more. I don't consciously plan anything in first drafts but might tweak things while editing as I begin to see patterns and links.
    Congratulations on your upcoming release!

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  18. Deniz,

    I like to outline somewhat, so that helps me get as much on the characters in on the first draft as I possibly can.

  19. Hi Joy! It's lovely to have a little trip to Jamaica! I like what you say about characters. They do evolve as you write. No matter what I plan, they seem to run away with me.


  20. Some characters are strong-minded like that and insist on doing their own thing.

  21. I do tend to plan out that part of the story--although sometimes the growth and change will differ from the original idea, as I write more of the story.

  22. Your post makes a lot of sense. We have to put our characters through a lot to force them to make choices in order to grow.

  23. Thanks for sharing this with us. I usually don't plan. I like to let my characters grow organically, much like it happens in life. I don't know why, but my characters work out better when I don't plan for them. :)

  24. What is clear to me - again - is that we all share some similarities in the way we write and yet there are also many differences in the way we approach storytelling.


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