Character arc is, essentially, the development of your character over the course of the story. Why is this important to you as a writer? Because real people change over time and real, strong characters do too. Besides, would it be very interesting if your character went through a story’s worth of events and came out the same? No, not really. Readers, agents, and publishers don’t think so either.
I'm no expert on this, but here are some things to consider when creating a character arc.
Know your character’s makeup.
No, not her favorite flavor of lip gloss or particular shade of eye shadow (although that can be important too!) I’m talking about your character’s constitution – what makes him/her who they are. Give your characters layers. What are the past experiences that have created the character we’re meeting? Figure out their upbringing, give them fears, opinions, beliefs, traumas, and joys. You are who you are because of your past – a compound of experiences – do the same for your character. Make them real. These are the things your character is going to be protective of. You now have vulnerabilities.
Consider who you want your character to be at the end of the story..
If you can decide what changes you want your character to undergo in the beginning stages of your story, you’ll be better able to steer your character arc towards that goal.
Create incidents that will require your character to change.
You need to create incidents that will impact your character’s life and the layers you have given them. Use the vulnerabilities you’ve created to carry your character away from who they were and towards the person they will be. Once you begin to impact the outer layers of who they are, a ripple should take place, and eventually their core-self should change too.
Reflect on your character's makeup and vulnerabilities for each major story incident.
Every time your character tackles a plot hurdle or incident, take some time to consider how it will affect the layers you’ve given them. Has it challenged a belief? Did they face a fear? Was an opinion swayed? Did they learn something about themselves? And so on and so forth. Once you’ve examined what did or did not change, you can begin to shift how your character acts and reacts to things in the future. Small or large, these shifts in character will propel you toward your end goal – a changed character.
Create a moment of change but don’t overdo it.
Most stories have a moment where the character has an epiphany or the change they have undergone becomes especially apparent. It can be straightforward or implied. It can refer back to an earlier moment subtly or it can be blatantly stated. Whatever course you choose, don’t overdue it. It’s easy to be overdramatic but its best to be subtle. Don’t insult your reader’s intelligence. They are picking up on a lot more than you may realize.
Do you have thoughts or advice on character arcs you'd like to share? Please comment!