Thursday, June 28, 2012

Character Arcs

So, I was writing yesterday, and I realized that my MC had changed. In a good way. She's still Roslyn, but now she knows what she wants and she's going for it no matter what. Some of her views have changed, some of her values, her outlook on her own life. And immediately I thought: She's arching!!

Yes, my darling little MC Roslyn is cresting her character arc. It's like character puberty...or something. I'm so proud!

Which led me to realize that I didn't plan her character arc. I thought I did, but what I actually planned was how her situation changed (plot), not how she as a character changed. Big, big difference. Luckily, Roslyn decided to change as a character all on her own. And I love her for it<3

My favorite characters are those who change in some way. It doesn't have to be monumental. In fact, gradual, subtle changes move me the most. I'm currently reading Delirium by Lauren Oliver, and I LOVE the MC Lena's character arc. She's quite a different person from the beginning to the end of the book, but reading her journey along the way is so, so satisfying. (It also helps that Lauren's prose is DISTURBINGLY pretty.)

When I go through editing, I know I'll want to solidify my character arcs. So I started thinking of what kinds of questions I need to ask.

1. Who is this character at the beginning of the story? What are his/her values? Views? Personality traits?
2. How does this character's past effect who they are? Did any specific events happen to instill certain character traits? WHY are they the way they are?
3. What is his/her goal?
4. What is his/her motivation?
5. Who is this character at the end of the story? How did he/she change?
6. What/who caused the change? Is it believable?
7. Were other characters affected by his/her change? Which characters? How?
8. How does his/her change effect the plot/climax?

This is just a short list, but definitely some things to think about.

What about you guys? Did you plan your character arcs, or let them happen naturally while writing? Are there any questions you ask about your characters before writing, or plan to ask later? Have you read any books lately with great character arcs?


  1. Regarding planning of character arcs: Yes and No. I largely wing the first draft, so the characters develop naturally. It's in the re-read and revise stage where I am more deliberate in shaping the characters. Exceptions occur, of course. On my WiP, I finished a passage and left a note at the end of the page that I needed to slow the pace of a particular element of my MC's development

  2. Yeah for Roslyn! That is the essence of good fiction - watching a character develop and change. The plot, really, is just the vehicle.
    My all time favorite book is East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Caleb, the Cain figure, ultimately rejects evil and embraces good - it is just wonderful :)
    Happy writing...

  3. Interesting question. For my MC I only planned one character trait arc; the rest developed naturally. I found myself actually planning character development more for the "supporting cast" of characters. But in both cases, plot was my primary focus and natural developments occurred across the board.

  4. those are some really good questions to track character development, I'm going to bookmark this post so I can come back to it (and I just wrote post mark this post, apparently I'm mailing it so myself, LOL)

    and it makes me smile that you are loving Delirium.... I LOVE Oliver's writing so so much!!!!!

  5. Mine just tend to happen, and I realize it after the fact. I may borrow those questions, though. They could be useful for years to come. :D

  6. I really love this post. I don't think some people realize how important not just character development but character arcs are. I'm there with Jeff on them -- my characters tend to develop naturally in the first draft, but then I really have to get them straightened out in revisions.

    Also: I just started reading DELIRIUM yesterday, and while I think the premise is kind of farfetched and ridiculous, Lauren Oliver's writing really is beautiful.

    Great post!