Regardless of the years of education I’ve had within the subject of creative writing, I didn’t learn the finer points of storytelling. I know, of course, a character should have his or her own personality, flaws, traits, dreams, and whatever else I can’t think of at the moment. I also know that a good story not only has a plot, but also shows how the plot effects the character. What I wasn’t taught, until I was 56 years old and I finally read some articles and blogs about the topic, was there’s a term for this effect on the character, Character Arc.
Even after I found the term, I wasn’t too sure what it really meant. I’m one of those who seems to need detailed information on anything I presume is important. I had questions like: Is this like The Arc of the Covenant? If so, what and where is the chest (which is what the biblical arc is)? Is it initials for something like The ARC (American Red Cross)? If so, what do the letters stand for?
Come to find out, the arc for a character is more or less the arc explained in any dictionary—any unbroken part of the circumference of a circle or other curved line. The meaning of this for a character in a story doesn’t mean he or she bends physically, or even mentally on purpose though. It’s the arc (curve, if you prefer) of the character’s personality development that happens, or at least should happen during the course of the story. It’s the part of the story that shows the inside of the character and what that character learns during the course of the story. Without it, you have stick people in your tale who are boring from beginning to end.
A character changes as the story progresses. She or he learns along the way. Choices are made. Emotions are felt. Beliefs of altered or changed. This is the general arc concept.
I pushed myself into the work on developing my characters more. I have to admit that this was enriching the story I’m working on. Now my protagonist has some quirks that makes her a real person inside my head. My antagonist is no longer just the villain. He has loving feelings for his wife and legitimate concerns about his business. He’s lost his fangs and his black cloak.
Still, I wasn’t satisfied with what I knew. What can I say? Sometimes I’m exacting. I went search for specifics across cyberspace. I came across a blog I hadn’t seen on the blogosphere before, the name – Veronica Sicoe. The way she explained the 3 types of character arc were clear, complete, and simple.
After reading her article, I realized my protagonist isn’t a heroine. I had been thinking all protagonists were heroes or heroines and I was trying to figure out a way to bring that out in my main character. Alyssa (that’s her name, by the way) turns out to be just a type young woman. Her character arc is a growth arc. With this found, she can now be a whole person, which, I’m pretty sure, will make her much more interesting to readers.
Do you want to get excited about your WiP? Get into the character arc of your characters.
“We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. … Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting.” —John Updike, WD