Free creative writing course -the character arc

Free Short Story Writing Course – The Character Arc

Creative Writing, Free Writing Course

What happens to my character in a story?

Character Arcs

The basis of a good story is change. The story arc deals with the action in a story and how characters’ circumstances change, but each of your characters may have their own arc as well. Do they metamorphose into a different person – this change could be good or bad. Perhaps they mature, fall in love, sacrifice themselves or something they value or discover something – this can be a place, an object, or something about themselves.

As with a story arc, there will be peaks and dips as they change. For example, a character starts from a low point and struggles to improve, something knocks them back and they dip down. This can be to the point where they feel like giving up or just a setback. Then they change; they find an inner strength, gain a new skill, meet another character. They regroup and climb back up the arc. You can repeat this process as much as the reader can stand until the character emerges at the end at a higher (or lower – see below) point.

Alternatively, the final curve of the arc can be a complete descent into hopelessness. George Orwell’s, 1984 does this. The totalitarian system wins and the characters change to fit in with its diktats. Orwell’s appendix written looking back from the future in the past tense does suggest that the system eventually fails.

Avoid Stereotypes

Writers often need a secondary character, someone who appears, interacts with the main character (MC), and then disappears. Since our writing is concentrating on the MC, it is often tempting to stereotype these secondary characters.

You can use a ‘stock character’, someone who fits a predictable description, as a secondary character. In one of my books, the heroine enters a building and is greeted by a rather officious ex Sergeant Major complete with polished shoes and a military haircut. That is all the reader needs to know to form an image (I avoid saying he stands, ramrod straight (a cliché) or shoes she could see her face in (another cliché).

Take time to paint a little of your own description onto these characters. Use their speech or mannerisms as they interact with your MC to show the reader what they are like.

Next time you meet someone new and instinctively like or dislike them try and analyse why. Is it their expressions, their manner of speech, or what they say, that is forming your opinion?

Characters and Place

The settings for your story can reflect the nature of your character’s personality and change as your character’s personality changes. Bad things often happen in dark and gloomy spaces and good things in warm sunlight (You can change that around if you want to surprise the reader).

In Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol Scrooge is pictured in a freezing, foggy London. As Scrooge’s character changes the setting becomes brighter.

Lee Child often sets his character Jack Reacher in the wide-open spaces of America, rather than the confines of England giving the reader an image of one man alone against the world. The covers often feature a single unidentified figure walking down a never-ending road.

The Hobbit starts in the bucolic, sunny, Shire and then follows Bilbo Baggins as he journeys to dark, forbidding lands before returning home, having gained maturity and wisdom, to the Shire.

References and further reading

Understanding Characterization BBC Bitesize

All Lessons

Available Oct 2023

Read my short stories and poetry

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