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Thread: Character Arc

  1. #1
    Nobody said I couldn't. scribbledoutname's Avatar
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    Character Arc

    I've got one more question about character arcs.

    If my MC starts off as an unhappy girl in a crappy home, and then winds up happy and rich in a big mansion after lots of emotional ups and downs, does that count as a good character arc?

    (I hope missesdash doesn't see this and kill me)

  2. #2
    The moving hand, having writ... AW Moderator Maryn's Avatar
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    It depends on whether your MC has grown and changed, not just how her circumstance at the end differs from that at the beginning.

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  3. #3
    Nobody said I couldn't. scribbledoutname's Avatar
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    Say she changes... she learns useful, practical approaches to things. The right way to spend money, how to cheat at poker, how to barter well. Her initial morals remain untouched, though. Is that okay?

    And this is all hypothetical by the way

  4. #4
    υπείκωphobe Wilde_at_heart's Avatar
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    To be honest it's not one that I would find interesting and there is more to character than a change of circumstances.

    Going from poor to rich would make me happier too, as it would nearly anyone.
    A better story is one where the character gets rich, still isn't happy and then learns something else that does make her happy. Though getting rich first could help.

    And if her initial morals remain untouched and her morals are an important part of the story, then I don't see a character arc at all. Picking up some additional skills isn't really character development.

  5. #5
    practical experience, FTW Zach Lancer's Avatar
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    Yeah, not to be discouraging, but in my opinion a character arc has very little directly to do with change in environment, socio-economic class and other external attributes. It's all about what's happening on the inside, how the external is reflected within and internal characteristics projected without. You can have a great character arc without ever actually changing the characters environment.
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  6. #6
    Nobody said I couldn't. scribbledoutname's Avatar
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    Ah, okay Thanks ^^ Truth be told, this is what I was worried about.

    I'm sure I said this is another post somewhere, but I read books to see the story through the main character's eyes. I get frustrated with major flaws and actions that create problems for the character when these problems could easily be avoided. If I don't like a character I just jump ship and find another book or, if the plot is really interesting, skim their internal issues in case they're relevant to what happens.

    So... I prefer seeing how the external plot unfolds and learning characters' motives. Sometimes I like seeing them grow, but mostly secondary characters, because it changes how they behave and feeds back into the plot.

    I've spent the last two days trying to get a handle on character arcs to guarantee I have good characters, but I've found that what most people like sort of clashes with my own tastes as a reader.

    Bleh.

  7. #7
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    Since you mentioned James Patterson and Dan Brown among your likes in your thread about character flaws, I thought this old thread might be of some use to you: http://absolutewrite.com/forums/show...+character+arc

  8. #8
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    A character arc can encompass many things.

    Sometimes a character starts out wanting something so badly that he'll suffer anything to get it, and so after much suffering, finally possesses the thing he wanted and is happy. Or, he gets what he wants and is unhappy, because he has changed.

    Sometimes a character starts wanting one thing and ends up getting something else, because she changed her goals along the way.

    Sometimes a character starts with a core belief that will be challenged and pummeled by story events, and at the end, in spite of huge pressure, the belief survives. Or, it doesn't survive, giving the character a different outlook.

    Sometimes a character just wants to be left alone, but events sweep away all control and force her onto a new path. At the end, she can return to her old life or she can embrace a new life. Either way, she will have changed in some way.

    There are so many choices. Just pick one and go with it.

  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW MakanJuu's Avatar
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    As has been said, a character arc should be an internal journey, not an external one. Has she gone through any sort of internal struggle(s) causing her to question herself, others around her, or her goals along the way to getting rich?
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  10. #10
    Nobody said I couldn't. scribbledoutname's Avatar
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    Thanks wampus.

    @Makan + BethS: I do make my characters question themselves (because who wouldn't stop to think about whether or not chasing after Unstable-Villain-Guy-Who-Has-A-Gun is a risk worth taking? ) so there is some internal conflict going on.

    An example:
    Should I save A or save B? If I save A, B will die. But if I save B, A will die. A has kids. B has parents. Damn it, I'll save B because B still has her whole future ahead of her. *later* Did I do the right thing? B is injured but he'll live. I think I did the right thing. Damn, A's kids are going to grow up without a mother. They know it's my fault. I chose to let her die. I think the eldest one hasn't forgiven me... she's definitely planning to do something spiteful. She wants payback... (plot continues, with eldest daughter's bitterness as a subplot. The eldest daughter will either grow and change or meet a bad fate depending on what I think works better emotionally)

    What I don't do:
    Should I have saved A instead? No. A lived most of her life; she got to fall in love and see her children, etc. but B hasn't had a chance to really live. And look how happy B is. Now I understand that I have to be strong. From now on I have to be ready to make tough decisions and not look back. But damn, A's kids are going to grow up with out a mother... (etc.)

    (By that I mean the underlined bit, although I do give the internal conflict 'closure')

    So I go for the emotional stuff but I don't make my main characters experience internal conflict just so that they can learn psychological lessons/change their worldview. I just want it all to feed into the intensity of their circumstances/situation.

  11. #11
    Just pokin' about Anna Spargo-Ryan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scribbledoutname View Post
    Thanks wampus.

    @Makan + BethS: I do make my characters question themselves (because who wouldn't stop to think about whether or not chasing after Unstable-Villain-Guy-Who-Has-A-Gun is a risk worth taking? ) so there is some internal conflict going on.

    An example:
    Should I save A or save B? If I save A, B will die. But if I save B, A will die. A has kids. B has parents. Damn it, I'll save B because B still has her whole future ahead of her. *later* Did I do the right thing? B is injured but he'll live. I think I did the right thing. Damn, A's kids are going to grow up without a mother. They know it's my fault. I chose to let her die. I think the eldest one hasn't forgiven me... she's definitely planning to do something spiteful. She wants payback... (plot continues, with eldest daughter's bitterness as a subplot. The eldest daughter will either grow and change or meet a bad fate depending on what I think works better emotionally)

    What I don't do:
    Should I have saved A instead? No. A lived most of her life; she got to fall in love and see her children, etc. but B hasn't had a chance to really live. And look how happy B is. Now I understand that I have to be strong. From now on I have to be ready to make tough decisions and not look back. But damn, A's kids are going to grow up with out a mother... (etc.)

    (By that I mean the underlined bit, although I do give the internal conflict 'closure')

    So I go for the emotional stuff but I don't make my main characters experience internal conflict just so that they can learn psychological lessons/change their worldview. I just want it all to feed into the intensity of their circumstances/situation.
    In my opinion..

    What you have here is a series of moral dilemmas and subsequent decisions. If your character faces a moral dilemma and makes a choice, there will be consequences to the story and plot, as you've said, but if you want to write well developed characters with good arcs there must be an impact on the character as well.

    These are the situations in a piece of writing that help readers to build relationships with the characters and to give anything resembling a shit about what happens to them at the end. If your dude is evil, maybe you show that he doesn't give a shit about the decision: character development. If your MC chooses the person who doesn't have kids, you might show us that they had a rough childhood and it's made them hate family: character development. The things that shape us as people--motives, needs, drives, morals, etc.--are what will also give life to your characters.

    The arc is just a journey from one lesson to the next that culminates in a revelation. That revelation doesn't have to be a huge moral contrast to the way the character was in the beginning, but it should speak to what the character has learned, how they have changed and how they have responded to whatever situation you've put them in at the beginning.

    Increasing the intensity of a situation will impact on the character's internal conflict. Did I make the right decision? Should I go with him? Why am I even doing this? How do I kill that alien? You need not express it as internal dialogue that's full of whining and reflection, but you will need to show the reader how these decisions change the character.
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  12. #12
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scribbledoutname View Post
    So I go for the emotional stuff but I don't make my main characters experience internal conflict just so that they can learn psychological lessons/change their worldview. I just want it all to feed into the intensity of their circumstances/situation.
    But there should be some internal consequences for the choices made. If the character literally has to choose one person's life over another's...well, nobody survives that kind of decision-making unscathed.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Maryn View Post
    It depends on whether your MC has grown and changed, not just how her circumstance at the end differs from that at the beginning.
    Tho I remember hearing about some novel where the MC didn't change, but their circumstances did, as an exercise in contrary structure and demonstrating some social or moral virtue. (This is already 110% of what I remember, having not actually read whatever it was. Something from the Dickens era, tho.)
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  14. #14
    practical experience, FTW gell214's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scribbledoutname View Post
    I've got one more question about character arcs.

    If my MC starts off as an unhappy girl in a crappy home, and then winds up happy and rich in a big mansion after lots of emotional ups and downs, does that count as a good character arc?

    (I hope missesdash doesn't see this and kill me)
    Just to add to what the others have said...

    "If my MC starts off as an unhappy girl in a crappy home, and then winds up happy and rich in a big mansion after lots of emotional ups and downs" is not so much a character arc as it is something that happens to your character. It's an external event that happens. Based on that though, a character arc for her could be: wanting to be rich when she was poor and then when she does get rich, she realizes that she already had the things that make her happy even before she got rich (since you say her morals stay the same), like love, friendship, etc. Something like that.

    So the example I gave is what happened to her INTERNALLY because of what happened TO her, externally.

    Hope this makes sense .
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  15. #15
    practical experience, FTW
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    There's a point at which more money doesn't increase happiness, and it's surprisingly low.

    A character arc should reflect an internal change that achieves an external change, that's all.

    I like to use the film Jaws as an example of a character arc, as many people have seen it. If you haven't, apologies! Also, spoilers, but hey, it's an old film.

    [Spoiler space]













    There's a killer shark menacing holidaymakers on an island. The police chief wants to kill it. That's the external conflict. The internal conflict is that he can't swim and he's terrified of water. That's where the shark is. In the water. Throughout the hunt for the shark he spends more time worrying about the safety of the boat, about his lifejacket, about his fear of water, than he does about the real problem: the shark. Only when he is able to overcome his fear of the water is he able to defeat the shark. That's his character arc.

  16. #16
    practical experience, FTW MakanJuu's Avatar
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    To clarify a bit, the character arc needs to last the entire, if not the majority of the book & should be integrated well into the external storyline (ie it needs to fit in with your get rich story & make sense)

    The conflict involving what she has to go through to get over the "survivor's guilt" thing would work well, if it's integrated into the story.
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  17. #17
    υπείκωphobe Wilde_at_heart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scribbledoutname View Post
    ... I get frustrated with major flaws and actions that create problems for the character when these problems could easily be avoided. If I don't like a character I just jump ship and find another book or, if the plot is really interesting, skim their internal issues in case they're relevant to what happens.
    That sounds to me like you're not reading very good books. I agree with you that contrived flaws and 'problems' that could be easily avoided by the average person are irritating; in better books character and plot work in tandem. I also cannot stand introspective bloviating.

    Maybe just google 'good character-driven novels' and find some better books to read and try to see how those authors handle it.

    Quote Originally Posted by scribbledoutname View Post
    So... I prefer seeing how the external plot unfolds and learning characters' motives. Sometimes I like seeing them grow, but mostly secondary characters, because it changes how they behave and feeds back into the plot.

    Bleh.
    I think you might actually grasp the concept better than you realize. At some point you should just finish your book and get some feedback from others and they can tell you whether they think the characters do it for them or not...

    I can't say I really concern myself with a character arc in any particularly self-conscious way but with most well-fleshed out characters, they tend to have traits in which they sabotage themselves, and that gets in the way of what they want - most people do in real life as well. Eventually they have to learn not to sabotage themselves in order to get what they want. The Jaws example was a good one...

  18. #18
    Huh. kkbe's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scribbledoutname View Post
    I've got one more question about character arcs.

    If my MC starts off as an unhappy girl in a crappy home, and then winds up happy and rich in a big mansion after lots of emotional ups and downs, does that count as a good character arc?

    (I hope missesdash doesn't see this and kill me)
    What you've described is a straight line from Point A to Point B. Emotional ups and downs are blips. Character arcs reflect significant change or growth. I found a post online that addressed character arcs. Kind of simplistic but you might find it helpful. http://www.screenwritinggoldmine.com/forum/showthread.php?t=3913 In part (indirect quote, btw, and my emphasis):
    Linear Arc, character brings about significant change to their world, but changes little themselves.

    Circular Arc, little or no change to character's world, but the character is very different.

    Combined Arc, both character and their world are forever changed by the story.

    Any character arc can have either objective or subjective change, though most do have both. Using The Wizard of Oz as an example:
    • Dorothy learns that you can only get rid of problems by facing them
    • Scarecrow discovers that even a head full of straw can think great thoughts
    • Tin Man finds that the secret of loving is to BE loved
    • The Lion realizes that courage isn't the absence of fear, but facing it
    NONE of the principle characters are 'the same people' they were when they were introduced into the story.
    Last edited by kkbe; 01-17-2013 at 07:51 PM.
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  19. #19
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  20. #20
    Totally Ninja! quickWit's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Buffysquirrel View Post
    There's a point at which more money doesn't increase happiness
    That's just crazy talk.
    Grill me a cheese.

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