A character’s arc includes when she enters and exits the story. Every character arc is a journey, and at the end of the journey, the character either succeeds at achieving his goal or he fails.
The moment a character enters a story, her character arc begins.
The first time a character appears, she must be introduced to the reader. This is where you decide how much time you spend on describing her and who she is in the story.
For a major character, put more emphasis on introducing the character and showing her goal(s). You either share the goal with the reader or make it an internal goal that will be revealed later. Either way, you as the author must know the goal.
For a minor character, write as little as possible and still keep the reader engaged and not confused.
You control how the information of a new character is presented. Consider her appearance, how she speaks, what her mannerisms are, her actions, and how she interacts with other characters.
When describing a character for the first time, describe the character so the reader:
- Can conjure up a physical image of the character.
- Understands the POV character’s interpretation of the new character.
Consider whose eyes the new character is being seen from and make the description something that character would think or feel.
For example, a rough and tumble character might look at a banker from a city and sneer at the manicured fingernails, whereas a pedicurist might look at the same character and be impressed with the care the person takes in her appearance.
Only include details that move the story forward. If a character’s length of time in his job is important then include that detail.
A character who has been a private detective for one day will act differently than a character who has been a private detective for ten years. If the job is not relevant to the story, then consider not including the detail when introducing the character.
After the character’s final scene, she may still have an impact on other characters in the novel, but she won’t grow or change again. Hence, it’s the end of her character arc.
At the end of the character arc, a reader should feel satisfied. Did the character achieve his goal? Did he fail? That’s up to you as an author to decide, but you must let the reader know.
Plot Hole Problem 2: Character Arc Not Closed
This problem occurs when a character exits your story, but her story was not closed off for the reader. This is extremely important for major characters and less important for minor characters.
Most likely, you’ll close the character arc for your protagonist and antagonist. It’s the other characters in your cast who might cause problems for you. Pay attention to characters who follow a subplot or hold the point of view for a scene. It’s easy to forget a goal or two.
The illustration below shows you how StoryTeller leads a writer through the process of evaluating plot and looking for plot holes related to character arc.
The along with the Story Arc, the Story Map in StoryTeller will show you many things about your characters.
Let’s look at my novel Avalanche.
The Story Arc report can show you the first and last scene each character is in.
To consider if you’ve closed the character arcs, remind yourself of the character’s goals, review the last scene for each character, and make sure you’ve closed off any loose ends.
To do that, you need to know what the character’s goals were.
I suggest starting with any characters who have the point of view for a scene. You can quickly scan the POV characters and their goals by choosing the Point of View (POV) and POV Goal in the drop-down menu of the Key Elements per Scene report. This way you can find the important goals you must close off (succeed or fail).
Her first point of view scene in Avalanche is scene 13. I found this quickly by looking at the POV report. The bottom row shows each POV character by initials in the order they appear in Avalanche.
Next, find the last scene your POV character is in. You can use the Story Arc report to do this.
Below, you can see Jessica’s last scene is scene 105.
If I need to read the scene, I can click on the black box shown above, and the text of that scene will be displayed. I can then determine if I’ve closed off Jessica’s character arc properly.
So now I know Jessica’s first POV scene, her goal, and her last scene. I can evaluate if I’ve closed off her goal by having her either succeed or fail.
I’ll repeat this for all POV characters and then move on to minor characters who don’t have POV for a scene but do have an important goal.
This takes a bit of time, but it’s worth it to create a better story for your readers.
If you’d like to listen to an in-depth discussion on story editing, check out Story Edit Like A Pro.
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