This fun panel was brought to us by Jordan McCollum who also made access to her Prezi (like Powerpoint but cooler) via her website. So if my notes don’t make any sense, you can always check out hers. Plus she’s got links and sources. Nothing but the best for all of you peeps.
Your character needs to have made some change by the end of your story. This can be many different types of change. Examples:
- Mystery to truth
- Fear to courage
- Ambition to destruction
- Doubt to decision
The internal journey is a major part of the elixir—the process of fixing what’s wrong in his/her life. Sometimes this can be more compelling than the external prize he/she can gain.
What if you don’t know your characters well enough yet? Are you trying to find a good internal conflict, or you still can’t figure out how the external events of the plot are going to affect them internally?
Focus on what motivates your character. Is it her:
- Journey & changes in the story
What compels her to go on this journey with you? What are her values? What does she prize above all else?
Let’s pretend our MC is going on the show “Perserverer” (think Survivor, but since that’s copyrighted, we’re using this title instead). Why would our MC be going on the show? Money is the obvious reason, but it’s got to be more than that to be a compelling story.
The external events of the story directly influence the character’s emotional journey. A well-executed internal character journey is intertwined with the external plot. The events of the plot show the characters’ starting and ending points. But the external plot’s events also force the change and show the stages of the journey throughout.
When your writing the conflict, you’ve got to take it way back. The starting point 1) must be shown and 2) it must be bad. You must have it on screen. You can’t have people tell the reader about it nor can you just tell the reader about it.
Michael Hauge says there are plenty of ways to create the starting point. It can be:
- Wound (something that’s really affected them)
- Belief (start wrong, lead them to assume a mask)
- Mask (not who they truly are)
An example of this for character arcs can be Shrek. He believes that because he is an ogre everyone will run away from and fear him and so he wears that mask making it a self-fulfilling prophecy.
But when you’re writing these arcs, don’t forget character sympathy! If they just let life keep kicking them, it’s hard to sympathize with them. Make sure they have struggles AND strengths.
The emotional starting point must be BAD, so bad that the character must fix it. They’ve probably already learned how to cope with it, but when the story begins you must weave something in so that when they face it this time they have to do something more to overcome it. And the more ingrained this is the harder it is to change.
Go back to Shrek. He’s so convinced about his mask of being “the ogre” he’ll even travel to Lord Farquaad’s kingdom to have him order people away when secretly what he wants is acceptance. He’ll do everything he can to keep people away, to hide his vulnerability.
“Save the Cat” is a great book on story telling. Some pieces of advice from this book is to make sure you take a step back. We must show the audience everything, and sometimes you have to make it worse for your character.
Character-driven fiction is about internal change. -Alicia Rasley
THE SAGGING MIDDLE
Sometimes in between the starting point (or inciting incident) and the climax, our stories drag in the middle. Our character may retreat into the familiar and failure.
- link the external events and internal arc in stimulus/response units (I think you could also call it action/reaction).
- character should try to maintain their world view most of the story—doesn’t want to change.
- character is presented with real choices, stacked choices
- they may make a wrong choice, and slowly they’ll learn their old world view isn’t working.
- choices hurt him until he has no other choice or realizes he needs to make better choices.
TWO STEPS FORWARD, ONE STEP BACK
Make every response somehow different, and then assemble them in order of emotional risk. -Alicia Rasley
In the ultimate moment of character change, show that the character has learned his lesson and can defeat the bad guy.
Set up the bad guy (internal, external, weather, whatever) the right way. Align the bad guy with the mask. Going back to Shrek: I’m a big scary ogre, the bad guy believes the same.
Show how the MC is (or has been) like the bad guy. Make the MC choose and affirm the choice.
We want the internal and external climax to come as close together as possible. Readers will only believe the internal change if they see it on an external level. -Alicia Rasley
So how do you have a fulfilling ending, even if your character doesn’t achieve his/her external goal? (Hint: it’s the title of this notes post…)
CHARACTER ARCS IN RELATIONSHIP STORIES (NOT JUST ROMANCE, BUT OFTEN)
Each charcter in the main relationship needs their own arc, needs their own wound, and/or their own mask. The love interest must be able to see past the mask eventually to the character’s true essence. The MC will have problems with their love interest when they retreat behind their mask. The MC’s wound should somehow match the strength, personality, etc. something about the love interest/buddy. This trait helps heal the character’s wound. (Think Donkey and Shrek. Donkey is good at talking and relating to people. He helps Shrek gather the courage to share his true feelings with Fiona, something he wouldn’t have done before.)
ARE THERE CHARACTERS THAT DON’T ARC?
Yes. They are often seen in series. They already have larger than life qualities and often go on larger-than-life adventures. (James Bond, Indiana Jones) This isn’t as common as it used to be with readers. Most these days like being with a character that arcs. You know, like Harry Potter.
Or this guy:
Character arcs in fiction show the power of transformative experiences. Watching that tranformation, rooting for it, and growing the character are the major reasons we read fiction.
What do you think? Do you plan character arcs into your stories? What tips do you have for those trying to figure out their character arcs? Do you miss David Tennant? Anything else you would add?