Character Arcs

The NSA FilesOne of the main lessons we writers learn early in our careers has to do with character arcs. The idea is that a character has to change from the beginning of the novel to the end of the novel. The change occurs as the character notices his or her weaknesses and works at changing them (with a little conflict to push them along) to meet a particular goal.

 

Over the years, I’ve seen on more and more agent lists the interest in spiritual journeys. There are a lot of books written about such journeys and every time I read one I have to admit, I don’t see what the hoopla is all about.

 

Since I’m in advertising and PR (my day job), I see this interest in spiritual journeys as just another way to say what’s always been going on in our writing—a character arc. Sure, some characters go to the dark side, as they say, but most characters change for the good. Whether a reader knows it or not, this is a spiritual change in many cases. One character learns that love can change all, another character learns that fear doesn’t have to debilitate you, and another character learns that courage comes in many packages.

 

Yes, we’ve been writing spiritual journeys into our novels for years, but we’ve always called them character arcs before. This doesn’t mean that there might be some very small distinction between the two, but I’m willing to bet that the distinction is just that, small. In reading the literature of the past century, many books have explored character limitations in hundreds of different ways and in hundreds of different stories. I find it fascinating how many ways writers find for their characters to change.

 

And all these different ways allow each of us to see our own character and personality through the eyes of a fictitious character. Reading these books allows us to witness, first hand, the emotional path that must be taken to change. We learn about ourselves. We learn about our loved ones, our friends, and our enemies. I believe that character arc is the one thing a novel offers us as a way to change our own lives, a way to understand ourselves better than we ever could through self-analysis.

 

Character arcs are the bread and butter of novels, even if they are slight, even if they take place over the course of a series. Things change, and in witnessing those changes, we change. What could be more beautiful than that?

Ten Months In WonderlandTerry Persun writes in many genres, including historical fiction, mainstream, literary, and science fiction/fantasy. He is a Pushcart nominee. His latest poetry collection is “And Now This”. His novels, “Wolf’s Rite” and “Cathedral of Dreams” were ForeWord magazine Book of the Year finalists in the science fiction category, and his novel “Sweet Song” won a Silver IPPY Award. His latest science fiction space opera is, “Hear No Evil”, his latest fantasy is “Doublesight”, his latest mainstream/literary novel is “Ten Months in Wonderland”.

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