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Building A Character Arc


October 10, 2013 by Jen Cudmore

One of the first things a new writer learns when crafting a story is that character development is essential. The protagonist must go on a journey of some kind and learn a lesson so they can rise to the occasion. Two great examples from classic literature are A Christmas Carol and Pride and Prejudice. The protagonists present a certain world view in the beginning of the story but by the end they realize they had it all wrong.

One of the best examples I’ve seen is the book To Die For by Sandra Byrd, a story told around the history of Anne Boleyn. This book was a finalist for the 2011 Christy Award and I highly recommend it! The reader follows Anne over the last several years of her life through the viewpoint of her friend Meg. The tagline of the story grabs the reader immediately and identifies the character’s personal journey and what’s at stake:

What would you sacrifice for your best friend? Would you die for her?

Sandra taught me how to construct a character arc. She said to show the reader the character’s flaw and hint that it needs to be fixed. Then show small steps toward growth throughout the novel until the climax where the character has that ‘ah-ha!’ moment. Sandra told me to show:

~ the odds stacked against them

~ the consequences if they fail

~ the freedom if they succeed

The trick is to be subtle as you weave character development through the plot of the story. What I found is that while it was clear in my head how the character got from A to Z, I wasn’t conveying it correctly to the reader. It took some coaching from Sandra for me to delve deep and nail down the journey of each protagonist in my Lawmen series.  Now I try to write out a character worksheet before I get too far into my stories. I can refer back to this worksheet and make sure my protagonist is developing the way I intended.

When you start developing your characters, ask yourself:

~ What do they want more than anything?

~ What problem must be overcome?

~ How do they grow throughout the journey?

©Jen Cudmore, 2013 ___  Subscribe to my blog or my email newsletter on the right side of the page!

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