Novel Writing 101 – 5. Character Arc

In the last post, we looked at the forth part of my Novel Writing 101 series titled: Novel Writing 101 – 4. The Villain! This week we’ll look at yet another very important point to consider when planning a novel, the Character Arc. Deemed most likely the most important part of any story ever! Believe me, it’s a crucial step.

Why a Character Arc?

I mentioned this briefly in my first post in this series: Novel Writing 101 – 1. The Idea Creation when I spoke about Character Flaw, and the best stories are when your character overcomes said flaw in order to reach the end of the journey to succeed, but I’ll explain further here.

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The character Arc is essentially how your main character or protagonist goes from acting in their flawed ways to finally overcoming that flaw and becoming a new person by the end of the novel. Put simply, it could be a story like Scrooge: Went from being miserable and grumpy to being loving and open.

Satisfaction lies in your Character Arc. Without Character Arc, your readers won’t feel satisfied. Why, you ask? Because you could have the greatest plot ever, the most exciting scenes, the coolest monsters, the most epic settings etcetera, but none of that means anything without your characters, especially your protagonist.

At the end of the day, your readers are human beings, which means they will sympathise with the human elements of your story: struggle, love, atonement and so forth. And so this is why a Character Arc is important, it’s about the struggle of your main character as they go from seed to tree, or even tree to firewood.

How to Identify Character Arc

If you’re still in the planning stage of your novel then it’s a really good idea to plot out the Arc now so you don’t run the risk of not giving your Protagonist an Arc once you’ve already written the novel. If you have already written your novel don’t panic, there are ways of identifying whether the Character Arc is there or not.

Basically, at the end of the novel, your protagonist’s behaviour and actions must be different than that of the start of the novel. For example, they must be able to defeat the villain at the end of the novel where they never would have been able to at the beginning.

Character Arc and Character Flaw

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In part 2 of this 101, Novel Writing 101 – 2. A Great Protagonist, I spoke about the Character Flaw and how it plays an important roll in your Protagonist’s development. I also spoke about how The Flaw itself is something your Protagonist must overcome by the end of the novel.

This overcoming of Flaw is actually one way for completing the Character Arc. Your character has this Flaw that makes them imperfect and holds them back and gets them into trouble, only by the end they overcome the Flaw so they can successfully fulfil the Goal you gave them to begin with.

Remember the Character Flaw is something your Protagonist will not only have a resistance to changing, but it will also hurt them emotionally in some way when they realise they have to change it in order to succeed.

Strengthening a Character Arc

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Resistance: There has to be present resistance in the Protagonist’s journey, both physically and emotionally. Your protagonist must resist the change for some reason, either because they don’t want to do something uncomfortable or too scary. Or you can use their surroundings to be the resistance, such as a parent not allowing the Protagonist to do something. Whatever it is, there has to be some resistance to the change.

Physicality: There’s nothing worse than when a new writer uses the Protagonist’s inner monologue to reflect on what has happened on their journey in order to change themselves. In order for readers to believe there is a Character Arc, each scene in the novel has to physically show how the protagonist is changing. You can’t have the character THINK about the change, you have to SHOW the character changing through action.

Gradual Change: The last thing you want is for the protagonist to change on the spot because they have just realised what it is they need to change about themselves in order to succeed. There’s a scene in The Simpson’s Movie that does this where Homer has his epiphany in a matter of minutes instead of gradually realising his Flaw throughout the story. If the protagonist’s Arc is too sudden, then it won’t be believable enough.

Earliness: In order for the reader to identify the entire Arc by the end of the novel, the Character Flaw needs to be present right at the start of the novel in a strong way. Show the protagonist getting into a scrape as early as possible so by the end of the novel we are able to see how they’ve changed.

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Climax: The end of the novel is the best time for the Protagonist to make that final decision of change and to complete the Character Arc. This decision, be it to defeat the villain, ask the love interest to the dance, jump of a cliff etcetera, is the decision that leaves the reader satisfied. It MUST be a decision the Protagonist would NEVER have been able to do at the beginning of the novel, and only through trials, obstacles, drama and conflict has your Protagonist been able to change and make that final decision.

It’s Not Always Bad to Good

Its worth noting that although the Character Arc is indeed about a character changing from one point to another in their journey, it does not necessarily have to be about the character going from a bad trait to a good trait.

The Character Arc still has to have something to do with the character’s circumstances. So even if your character must for example go from being weak to being strong, you should consider that that might not necessarily be for a university good thing. Your protagonist might go from being a timid nature lover to a serial bad-ass bounty hunter killer, killing everything in sight, but as long as it serves the plot, the Arc will still work.

Conclusion and Check list

As you can see, the Character Arc is a pretty important part to the character plan. You could have written the novel already or are in the planning stage for example, but whatever you do, try and nail the Character Arc for your Protagonist. It will bring so much richness, depth and connection for your readers, and will only enhance an already plot heavy novel.

To summarise:

  1. Understand the Character Arc will serve your readers depth and connection
  2. Identify the Arc – The Protagonist must have changed from the start to the end
  3. Identify the Character Flaw and gradually plan to have it change by the end
  4. Understand the Key elements to strengthen a Character Arc
  5. Make sure you SHOW the change happening, it’s not something that’s always happening in your character’s head

That concludes Part 5 of my Novel Writing 101. You can read Part 4 here: Novel Writing 101 – 4. The Villain!. I’ll try and get something like this done often to give you all a better understanding of how I write my own novels.

If you have any questions or want to discuss the ideas above, either drop me a message, or leave a comment below so we can chat about it! Other than that, what things do you do to get your creative juices flowing? What do you think creates a good connection between Protagonist and reader? What do you think about a Character Arc, and do you think it’s overlooked? Let us know in the comments!

Next time, I’ll discuss The Three Act Structure

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