Kristen did a fabulous post on character arcs here. Come back when you’re finished reading for further discussion.
Okay, you done?
Now, this post from me a few days ago, discussing what I found on K.M. Weiland’s ebook on characterization which can be found on her site by subscribing with an email address. Specifically, she says that character arc is about the character believing the Big Lie, and then arcing by finding out the Truth that confronts the Big Lie and either overcoming it (positive character arc) or not (negative character arc).
Back to Kristen. Her take on character arcs relates to the character traits, both negative and positive. Her application is that the example character is too trusting and innocent in the first book, and must go through a change to do something that breaks that reality and flips it on its head. I’d say that the character’s Big Lie is that the Universe is Okay, Really, and Doesn’t Want to Hurt Me (these are characters who have never been in space, obviously). The character arc, then, are the events change the character.
Here’s my two questions for you experts:
- When you are plotting a book, say you’re doing cards or what have you, some sort of modular unit to organize ideas, how do you track character arc? Is it simply embedded in the event itself, say, “Remi finds out from Joe that he’s been lying to her and she tries to throw him off a cliff,” might relate to the big moment where Remi’s trust is irrevocably broken and now she must embrace a new reality. Or do you have some separate system for character arc? Or go with a vague statement, say you write up the character’s information on a nice sheet and you have their stated goal, unstated goal, and what happens to them in the story, but you throw in the character arc deal of “character believes xyz and will have that challenged in the end when they become negative xyz”?
- If you have a good system for doing the character arc for your protagonist, do you also do an arc for your antagonist and apply it across the entire story ? To the supporting characters? I mean, yeah, “Everybody arcs” but how many people do the work to arc every character of importance? HOW REAL IS THIS?! I must know. Examples, and whether you do this yourself or not.
Your thoughts, please. I need to understand this character arc once and for all so I can move on with my life. Argh! [Shakes fist at character arcs]