Character arcs are an important part of even the most plot-driven novels. If you’ve ever had a hard time getting into or connecting with a book, it’s possible that the character arcs are part of the problem. Character arcs give your characters direction and growth. They give your reader something to root for while making your story significantly stronger than it would otherwise be.
Today we’re going to take a look at what character arcs have to offer your story and how to write a strong one.
Why character arcs are important
They make your book more interesting
As a writer of commercial fiction, I have nothing against plot. The plot is typically what moves my story forward. But as great as plot is, plot and character together is better. Adding an intentional layer of character growth and development into your novel will help deepen your plot lines and make your stories significantly more compelling. It’s simply more interesting to see a character that is affected and changed as a result of what they face in the plot. When characters are the same at the end of a book as they are in the beginning, it makes for a significantly less interesting novel.
They make your reader more invested
Readers may be intrigued by your plot, but plot alone isn’t going to make them feel like they need to keep turning pages. For readers to feel like they need to read more, they need to feel connected and invested in your characters. It’s the human element that they bond with. So if you want the threat of death (or whatever) to really matter to your readers, they need to care about the character that’s in danger. It’s a lot easier for your readers to connect with your character if they want to root for them.
If readers see your characters struggling, growing, and overcoming the obstacles of your plot, they’re going to be more invested in your story. Everyone struggles at some point in their lives, and people often grow because of those struggles. Planning an arc for your character will make your character more relatable and give you an audience that’s more invested in every aspect of your story.
They make your book more realistic
Like I just mentioned, people do struggle, they do learn, and they do grow. Because of that, having a character that goes does the same will make your book much more realistic. This also speaks to the reader’s ability to connect with your character. It can be harder for your readers to relate to a character that just takes everything in stride, doesn’t struggle, or doesn’t grow as a result of what they’re being confronted with in the plot. That can make your story come off a touch unrealistic, which will mean you could lose some credibility with your audience.
How to write a strong character arc
Focus on one core area of development
If you try to grow your character in leaps in and bounds, it may become overwhelming for your reader. To avoid this, I would suggest figuring out one core aspect of your character you’d like to develop. Sure, there might be other areas that will be affected by this one big lesson, and you should absolutely include those, but your focus should be limited to one area of growth. For example, maybe you want your character to be more independent. Maybe they need to get used to counting on others. Or maybe they need to learn to be more trusting. Whatever you want your character to learn, I would suggest being sure you can explain this growth goal in a single sentence. This will likely make it easier for you to stay focused on your character’s development without overwhelming the story or the reader.
Purposefully plot growth points like you would plot points
Once you know what lesson you want your character to learn, come up with growth points just like you might do with plot points. When you work with plot, it’s typically best to spend the whole book building the climax. Ideally, you want to do the same thing for your character arc. So look at where your character is at the start of the book, and where you want your character to be at the end of the book. Then consider the steps your character will need to take to go from the starting point to the end point.
For example, let’s say you have a very dependent character, and you want them to be more independent by the end. You might plan to force your character to face four problems throughout the book. For the first, at about a quarter of the way through the book, they’ll have some help, but not quite as much as they’re used to. For the second, they’ll have someone to talk them through the problem, but they have to act on their own. Then for the third, they have someone talk them through the beginning of a situation, but they’re on their own for the second half. By the end of the book, they’ll have to solve a problem completely on their own.
Tie growth points to your plot points
To get the most out of both your plot and your characters, tie your growth points to your plot points. This will ensure that your plot is directly helping to grow your character and add more depth to each of your plot points. If you’ve been following this blog, you know this is something I swear by! Here are two posts where I cover this approach more in-depth: How to Make Plot and Character Work Together, How I Outline My Novels
I hope this helps you create awesome character arcs!
Now it’s your turn: Why do you think character arcs are important? What would you say makes a strong arc? Tell me about it in the comments!
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