My first response was, “It certainly is! If your character changes over the course of the novel then you did what a writer was supposed to do!”
Characters are not static things. They’re not supposed to remain in one place. In fact, if your character is stagnated then there is definitely something wrong.
Another couple of components of storytelling are the story arc and character arc. The story arc is the structure; your key points in the plot leading up to the climax and all that. We’ll be covering that later on in the workshop.
The arc we’re concerned with right now is the character arc. This particular arc isn’t confined to the boundaries of the story itself. It moves, it flows, it leaks out beyond the story and often times keeps right on rolling through any subsequent novels in the series.
Character arc is the way your character grows over time. Like it or not, your character is going to evolve. The more you write that character, the more they’ll change.
Best Laid Plans
Characters are like babies. When they first arrive in the world we have such grand hopes for them and have an idea of how we’d like to see them end up. But there comes a time when the character begins to take on their own life. They move beyond the page and start to live in ways you may never have imagined. If you stay true to form when you write them they won’t always do exactly what you want them to do. You may also find while you’re writing dialogue they say things you’d never expect.
Moments like these, no matter how small, can change the whole course of a story. Or at least make the story that much more interesting. When this happens, don’t fight your character on it. Go with it. If something absolutely must happen and your character has deviated from the course, you as the writer can bring it back around again to where you want it. It’s like listening to a lead guitarist play a solo. Sometimes they get so far out there, but a good guitarist can always bring the notes back and get them on track.
Plot or Pants?
On the surface all of what I’ve said may sound like you can fly by the seat of your pants when doing a character arc. Admittedly, I rarely ever sit down and write out a character arc. However, I do have a plan and this plan goes right along with the story arc and you do too whether you realize it or not.
You have Point A where the character begins and you have Point B where the character ends up. You know this from the start just like you know how you want your story to end. Now, if your character didn’t grow over the course of the story, he or she would never reach Point B, would they?
This is where you get creative. How is this character going to reach this particular goal? You’re going to have to take a good look and see what your character’s issues are. Why do they want this goal? Or better yet, why are they avoiding it? Remember The Big Conflict you created? This is where it comes into play. You need to think about all the surrounding factors standing in your character’s way and how you see them coming to terms with them to come out the hero in the end.
In the gaming community there’s a character type called a “Mary Sue” (Or “Gary Stu” for the male characters). A Mary Sue is a character that’s flawed but always seems to have all the answers or skills to easily overcome adversity. Nothing is more of a cheat to the reader than a character who knows all and can do everything. Where’s the fun in that?
Character arcs are supposed to be messy. The beauty is in the chaos. It’s the way life is. It’s this touch of reality where the character fails on the first few tries that (c’mon, say it with me)…makes the readers CARE!
Readers can relate to this because that’s what humans do, they fail and get back up and try again. The reader sees the struggle going on, they see the pain and revel in the triumph when it finally happens.
Take a look at the character you created last week. How do you see their arc playing out? Share your ideas here, we’d love to see what you’ve got.