On Writing: Arcs

Thursday, October 20

Okay, I’m going to get all math-ish on you here, but bear with me a moment. And I say this as a person who hated geometry. (I liked algebra because it mimics life–in life we are always trying to solve for the unknown–but that’s the subject of a different post…)

In geometry, an arc is the path between two points. It is exactly the same with a character arc. A character arc marks the path between your character at the beginning of the story and your character at the end of the story. The change in the character does not happen all at once, it happens gradually over time, a series of small steps before the final climax when the character is remade into his new and improved self.

Think of a baby chick or a butterfly. It pokes and wriggles, attempting to free itself from the egg or the cocoon, until the very end where it makes a heroic final burst and breaks free. And as any naturalist will tell you, it is hugely detrimental to help the creature break free too early because it is in the actual struggle itself that the chick or butterfly will gain the strength to make that final valiant effort that frees it from it’s old trappings. That pretty much sums up a character’s internal journey and arc.

Here is a picture of one of my character arcs: [click to continue…]


Let’s say you’ve spent some time and come up with this perfect conflict for your character. There is even something at stake if she fails. Go you!

Now think of a way to make it worse. Seriously.

I had an opportunity to attend one of Donald Maass’s all day workshops, and he asked this question. Many times. So often, we got to giggling, however, it was highly effective in driving home his point. Push the limits. Dare to take your character to the wall, then blow the wall away and take him even farther than that. [click to continue…]

Conflict drives the story. It’s pretty much that simple. If you don’t have conflict on some level, you don’t have a story. The good news is, conflict comes in many shapes and sizes, flavors and colors. The bad news is, most people tend to avoid conflict, so it can be difficult to grab it with both hands and force your characters into the thick of it.

Besides, we writers usually like our characters. We don’t want to put them through the wringer. But alas, if we want to effect a transformation in their lives, we must. Remember, we are the meddling, interfering Olympian gods in our book’s universe. It is our JOB to mess up our characters’ lives and force them to change or teach them a life lesson. [click to continue…]

Okay, so let’s say you’ve figured out—kind of—what your characters motivations and desires. You even have a pretty good idea as to what is standing in their way—a bad guy, a raging storm, a stalking fae, a lovesick werewolf, whatever. Now how do you take what you know and shape it into a plot? [click to continue…]

In order to understand what actions will effect a transformation in your character, there are a few things one needs to know. Debra Dixon addresses this brilliantly with her concept of Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, and if you haven’t read the book, I highly, highly recommend it. She talks at length about needing to have both an external GMC (plot) and internal GMC (internal growth arc).

Goal – What your character wants.
Motivation – Why do they want it? Why are they pursuing this goal?
Conflict – What is standing in their way.

Ideally you should be able to answer those questions on an external and internal level for your character. [click to continue…]

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As I continue to pick up the threads of my former life, I am trying to find a way to begin weaving them into some sort of semblance of order or organization. Or hell, I’d even settle for a sense of forward momentum at this point. On that front, I am making some progress. As […]

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