Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Character Arc’

Character Arcs explained

In 52: A Writer's Life, Character Arc, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on July 7, 2013 at 11:00 am

After reading “Twilight” by Stephanie Meyer, I couldn’t figure out why some of my writer friends called it popcorn, poorly written material.

At a party last month, I asked one of those friends to explain, particularly because I had gotten caught up in the young adult story and liked the characters, though now I can’t remember their names and had to look them up (Bella Swan and Edward Cullen). That should have been a clue right there. Memorable characters have memorable names, like Scarlet O’Hara, Scout, Jay Gatsby, Elizabeth Bennett and the couple Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley.

One writer friend said that the point-of-view character, Bella, who falls in love with Edward, a sexy vampire whose extreme beauty is almost un-human, doesn’t change.

In other words, there is no character arc for her where she undergoes some kind of transition and learns something in the process. She’s just a pretty girl who ends up with the vampire boyfriend.

A character arc demonstrates the point-of-view character’s growth process through the unfolding of the story through beginning, middle and end. Without a character arc, which is graphed as a curve alongside the plot, the story becomes a series of events lacking anything tying them together.

The character has to want something, or she already has what she wants and loses it. She has a certain viewpoint at the onset that changes by the end. She is impacted by the plot, and as a result changes and grows.

The character arc is the line of movement in the story as this character faces her flaws, fears, attitudes and limitations and overcomes them to get what she wants or needs but does not initially recognize or acknowledge. When she faces her flaws, she is forced to face the truth about herself and as she does so, is able to consciously choose to change or not to change.

The inner or outer journey she undergoes from beginning to end causes growth and transformation of who she is. A negative arc will take her from a good place to bad, while a positive one takes her from bad to good. An arc that isn’t so clear cut allows her to achieve some of what she wants or needs, but not everything.

Regardless, she is a different character at the end of the book and not the same old Bella, or beauty, she was at the beginning.

Writing Arc

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Processes on December 9, 2012 at 11:00 am

The scaffolding for a novel’s structure is the arc, or the beginning, middle and end of the novel. Without this seemingly simple progression of storytelling, the novel becomes a collection of scenes or episodes that easily collapse like a house of cards.

The term “arc” can refer to the novel’s structure as well as to the development of character. The point-of-character, and even other major and secondary characters, go through some kind of transition and learn something in the process. The arc of each character undergoing change has a beginning, middle and end.

Likewise, writers go through an arc through their writing careers.

Just like a novel’s arc, where characters and plot are introduced, the writer is introduced to writing in school, through another person or by discovering they have an interest.

The aspiring writer reads and writes to learn the craft.

The writer needs to put in at least 10,000 hours to reach the professional level, as stated in “Outliners,” by Malcolm Gladwell. Or they need to write a million words, or 100 words an hour to reach the 10,000-hour mark.

I usually write 1,000 words in one to 1 ½ hours, and I’ve put in more than 10,000 hours between my writing career as a journalist and my side job as a yet-to-be-published novelist.

The storyline is complicated through the character wanting something, but plot complications stand in the way. Writers have to withstand the rejection, the hard work of submitting their work to contests and literary agents, study the field and write to get what they want – to be a better writer, a published writer or, most desirable, a bestselling, award-winning writer.

At the resolution, the character either gets or will not get what she wants. But for writers, if they get what they want – publication or some kind of recognition for their work – it’s likely they’ll start a new arc in their career, pursuing even greater things.

The climax of a novel is the moment of greatest tension and excitement for the reader, but for a writer, hopefully that climax doesn’t turn her into a one-hit wonder.

As writers march toward 1 million words, they learn from their mistakes, experiences and discoveries. They improve their craft through hard work and discover their talent by learning the basics first.

It’s like building a skyscraper. You start with the scaffolding and go from there until you have a beautiful, sky-reaching building. Writing needs the scaffolding of experience to turn writing that is mechanically correct into something with soul, magic and heart-stopping beauty.



Catching onto Character Arc

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on June 3, 2012 at 11:00 am

As a story unfolds, so does the identity of the characters playing a part in the telling of that story.

The unfolding from the story’s beginning to the middle and to the end is called the arc, or the line of the story. The scenes within the arc build to the top, or the moment of highest tension, before sloping back down into some kind of resolution.

The story arc includes one or several character arcs, depending on how many main characters there are.

The character has to want something, or she already has what she wants and loses it.

The character arc is the line of movement in the story as this character faces her flaws, fears and limitations and overcomes them to get what she wants – or, in some cases, needs but does not initially recognize or acknowledge. The inner (or outer) journey she undergoes along the way causes growth and transformation of who she is.

In my novel “Changing Colors,” my main character Kate wants to replace her lost things from an apartment fire, but her obstacle comes in the form of antique stores and flea markets that don’t have anything except for a teddy bear, not enough to restore her sense of home.

Kate faces setbacks and forces of antagonism up until the crisis event, or climax. Those setbacks thwart her desires and trigger her fears.

As she is tested, her motives increase, giving purpose to her actions. She becomes more determined to overcome her problems and obstacles. At the climax, or her moment of truth, she will have to stay with the status quo and suffer the consequences or change to get something better. What that is for Kate, I haven’t yet figured out.

But I do know that as soon as Kate, or any main character, gets her want or need met, the story is over.

A Story’s Arc

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on May 27, 2012 at 11:00 am

Arc is a literary term that conceptually makes sense but is difficult to apply in story planning – that is, if you’re the type of writer you can’t figure out endings.

Arc is the storyline from beginning to middle to end.

In my novel “Dropping Colors,” I’m a third of the way into the story – I know that my two main characters, an artist and a musician, are going to meet, engage in some kind of romance and change each other’s realities. How my story will end is up to my subconscious and the process of letting the story unfold.

The arc is a very loose description of story structure, similar to how the architecture of a home can be reduced to the walls, windows and doors.

The structure of a story contains the elements of the arc line but with more detail. Stories need to have an origination, or some kind of incident that sets up the conflict. This is the beginning.

The middle is the escalation of that conflict and a complication of the situation the characters have to face. The ending resolves the conflict and situation, offering a resolution, unless the story is part of a series.

The storyline, in that case, is resolved but something brought up in the telling sets up a new conflict that can be continued in the next installment. Or, in the case of mysteries, one case is closed but there will be another as part of the character’s job or hobby.

Alongside the story arc, there is character arc.

The character arc is the line of the character’s transformation from the beginning to the middle and to the end. The line shows how the character faces her flaws, fears and limitations and overcomes what hinders her from getting what she wants.

The arc, in other words, is the personal growth and development that she undergoes in a story.

See Zoey the dachshund’s take on arc at