How to Write Character Arcs
Start with your character’s original personality.
Sometimes this is the mask they wear for others. Sometimes it is the character’s views of themselves. Either way, it is what they are like before they start their journey.
Simple interactions with people and places they already know. What they say and do in their normal, everyday lives.
Hint at their true nature.
Add small conflicts. This can be done through interactions with friends and family issues—how they deal with someone else’s problems. Maybe an accident like they miss their train, they spill coffee on their phone, their clothes washer overflows (that just happened to me today). How they react to these small things gives your readers hints about your character’s true nature.
I grabbed all the available towels to soak up what I could, fixed the issue with the washer, hit rinse and spin, and cursed a bit. What does that reveal about me? I get frustrated with unexpected, but I’m not a panicker; I’m a problemsolver. I can fix a household item, and because I am writing this, I don’t let little things ruin my day. 😊
Reveal the complexities of their personality.
Add larger conflicts that involve internal debates to reveal their deep issues and inner flaws. Their house burns down. Their precious dog is very ill. They lose their job. When they think about if they can recover, how they can recover, or what the best plan is for the situation, you can reveal deeper issues.
I come home and my dog is convulsing near her food bowl. I have options: I can scream, shake her and cry, not touch her and wait to see if she stops, or immediately, pick her up and drive her to the vet. How I handle this and how much my dog’s spasming affects me will show more about my personality.
So, I walk into my apartment, and my dog is seizing. “Oh my God. Kali, what’s wrong? Kali?” I pick her up and run down the stairs. “Kali, my sweet girl. You’re gonna be alright. Mamma’s here, sweetheart.” People are staring at me as I clumsily carry my dog, crying, running down the street. At the car, I fumble with the keys before I unlock it and get her into the passenger's seat. Sprint to the driver’s side and peel away from the curb. I glance over at her, and she has stopped moving. I start panicking. Calling her name and lightly shaking her, I speed through a red light. “Kali! You are not dying on me now! You hear me?” As I’m driving, I replay the events. She was lying near her bowl. Was it the dog food? She’s never done this before. It was the same food I always give her. Then, I go through some great memories of our time together… “We’re almost there.”
Thirty minutes later…
Force them to make a hard decision.
The vet comes out. “I’m sorry, Kristin, but Kali has a brain tumor. From the X-ray it appears we can operate and remove it with some difficulty. But from the size and shape of it, it is probably cancerous. She isn’t doing well, and you need to make the decision to operate or put her down. I’ll give you some time, but if we are going to operate, it will need to be soon.”
Now, I have a difficult decision.
How I weigh my options and what my knowledge of cancer will reveal more about my past and character. My previous experience with cancer surgery and treatment may come into play, and reveal some of my backstory, my fears, my flaws, my regrets, my thoughts about quality vs. quantity of life.
As much as I love her and want her with me, I choose to let her go peacefully. No judgements please, this is fiction. 😉
Show how the decisions a character makes changes them.
I have lost my true best friend. In truth, I’ve killed her, but it makes me realize I am stronger than I thought. I have gotten over my past cancer trauma and am a better person for having made such a difficult decision.
Quick Character Arc Review
1) MC original/surface personality
2) Small conflicts give 𝘩𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘴 to true nature
3) Larger conflicts/struggles 𝘳𝘦𝘷𝘦𝘢𝘭 true nature
4) Force the MC to make hard decisions
5) Reveal how their choices they changed them.
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