Five Ways to Master The Character Arc

What is a character arc?

“A character arc is the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a story. If a story has a character arc, the character begins as one sort of person, and during the story, things happen which gradually transforms him or her into a different sort of person.”

As I close the third round of editing for my novel, A Time of Stones, I realize the importance of character arcs and how they drive the reader through the story and finishing the novel.

Here are five ways that will help you help you master your character’s arc.

ONE – You Need a Lie

Although there are countless ways to push your character through its arc, one thing for sure, you do actually need a character arc.

An arc gives you pace, conflict, and plot. More important than all of that, is the fact that an arc gives your character depth. It’s what will drive your readers to root for your characters because they watch them grow and change; readers become part of your characters change.

One guaranteed method for giving you an arc is a lie a character believes and has to ‘realise’ the truth about during the book.

TWO – What are Your Characters Lie?

For YA writers especially that lie is usually something they believe about themselves or about the world. Often it’s something naive or narrow-minded, like the world owes me something or, the world revolves around me, I want such and such therefore I should get it.

But it doesn’t have to be a lie about themselves. For other writers that lie could be anything, for example, a lie about another character.

Let’s take a romance novel example. You know the one, where the main character hates the male lead because she believes a lie about him. As long as you’ve drunk your morning coffee, the lie doesn’t have to be literal either.

I’m talking the kind of lie that means she thinks Mark’s an unreliable, egotistic person.  Maybe she always thought it. Or perhaps she thinks it because she heard about the crappy break up he had with a friend of a friend, or perhaps its just an assumption she made.

Does your character believe a lie?

THREE – Connect The Lie to Your Theme

The lie Katniss Everdeen (in the Hunger Games) believes, is that: she has to kill all the other tributes in order to survive. But that’s the last thing she wants to do.

She believes that lie right up to the end when she realizes there is another way – if they both kill themselves, they beat the system. And herein lies the beautiful connecting lie to the book’s theme, which is: Sacrifice.

You see it even at the beginning of the story, Katniss believes if you’re picked as a tribute you have to go when her sister is picked, she realizes there is another way, if she sacrifices herself by taking her sister’s place, she can beat the system.

FOUR – Lies = Conflict

The lie your character believes should be driving their behavior. As mentioned above with Hunger Games. Katniss whole character arc is motivated by the lie of tributes having to fight when picked.

It drives the stories tension and ratchets up the conflict, especially other aspects of her character – love, family, sacrifice, and rebellion.

FIVE – Time the lie.

character believes a lie that they then get over later in the book. Then the lie needs to be made clear very early in the story.

If your lie is connected to your theme, it becomes part of your hook or books promise to the reader. Take the Hunger Games, the first chapter is all about Katniss sacrificing herself for the lie she believes.

But the resolution of that lie, doesn’t come until later. I made an assumption that the lie, would resolve itself during the climax of the story.

In most cases, the lies needs to be resolve about 75% of the way through the story, or at least, before the climax of the story. In the case of the Hunger Games, realising the truth is the puzzle piece she needs in order to beat the system.

What do you think?

What literary devices do you use to drive your character through its arc?

Please post your comments and answers below. If you think someone has an interesting point of view and answer, please invite them or share this post with them.

#DWTSmith #characterarcs


5 thoughts on “Five Ways to Master The Character Arc

  1. Loved this post. I need to work on character arcs, and your whole idea of “the lie” is a way I’ve never thought about it before, but one that has already given me ideas to shape the characters in my WIP.
    Thank you so much for sharing, and with such detail and fab examples. <3

  2. The “lie and truth” is a very common and effective way of constructing a character arc, though I wouldn’t say you absolutely need a lie. There are other types of arcs that can be used. Indeed, not every character needs to psychologically change; there are other ways for a person to grow or progress. But all in all, a good place to start.