For centuries, explorers, scientists, and Bible scholars have been hoping to find the resting place and remains of Noah’s Ark. But as writers, we are on another search. We are exploring to find our story or character arc.
A story without a compelling arc is unfinished.
It lacks conflict. Characters don’t grow. The primary thing is that characters must always grow or change. Some characters (antagonists) may actually do the reverse. They may start out as a bad seeds, to be sure. Then they become worse and worse, all the way to the end. Still, sometimes, even the bad guy is redeemed.
Imagine a rainbow. You start off on one end with a flawed character. He carries some emotional fear, wound, or guilt. He is limited. He can’t have or become what he wants. And because it will be a painful, difficult process, the last thing he wants to do is struggle up over the rainbow. But that rainbow represents the story or character arc. It is the bridge he must climb to discover courage, spiritual development, joy, or whatever change lies on the other end.
If we want our stories to resonate with readers for a long time, they must have a strong arc. Readers will identify with someone who is struggling to overcome.
A character or story arc doesn’t have to be something as huge as saving the world. Many character arcs are very strong, but they’re subtle. In “Pride and Prejudice” it’s as simple as a couple finding love by learning to see through their prejudices and setting aside prideful misconceptions. Every good story has an example.
- Study the story arcs of books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen. How did the character start out? How did he or she change?
- Look at your own work. Outline your character’s story arc to be sure that there is one. List all the internal and external problems this character has. Now think, how will he or she get through them? What conflict can you introduce to make the arc stronger all the way to the end? Is the end conclusive? Does the character change? Is the plot fully woven?