Character Series Part 3: “The Character Arc”


So, in this Character Series, I felt it important to address what I call the “character arc.”  I can’t honestly say that I have studied this, or that it’s the correct terminology, but I am referring to the emotional journey of a character.  It is important to address this because so many times I have read books where the character is stays flat throughout the story.

We as writers are essentially in control of taking our characters through their journeys – holding their hands and becoming their voice.  It’s our responsibility to put a character through trials, joys, testing, peace, and turmoil.  If we don’t then there is really nothing to read about is there?

There are three things (in my opinion) that create the perfect opportunity for a character’s emotional growth, and a couple of them relate to Joseph Campbell’s A Hero’s Journey.  

1. The Call – For a character to emotionally grow, something has to happen.  There has to be a change either abrupt, sought out, supernatural, or naturally dramatic.  Essentially, the ordinary world MUST be rocked in a way that will send the protagonist on a journey to find “self.”  We know that the majority of our human nature response is to fall into rhythms and patterns.  We tend to get comfortable in the ‘norm’ of our lives, whether that is a job, family, misery, depression, business, etc. So, a character’s normal world has to be altered forever sending them in search of meaning and purpose.

2. Testing/Trial – I think we would be naive if we thought that life didn’t come with these two things sewn into the fabric of each personal journey.  It is imperative that a character experiences setbacks to the goal of finding one’s purpose and true sense of self.  I have a very wise uncle who said that “pressure builds character,” and yes, I am going to say it….Diamonds are only rare and beautiful after experiencing extreme temperatures and gobs of pressure.  Would they be beautiful if they didn’t?  Would we value them?  In the same vein, our characters must experience pressure to build the character they need to save the world, overcome illness, die in grace, or defeat any enemy.  Who wants to read about a hero who is self-centered and whiny, or one who couldn’t be bothered to sacrifice something for the good of a cause?  It’s in the testing and trial that a person gains all they need to finish their personal race.

3. Choice – This is probably the most important element in my opinion.  There is always a choice.  Even if someone experiences trials, that doesn’t mean they are ready to be a hero.  It is only by choice.  We need our characters to, at some point, rise up and say “I choose this.”  They have to chose to get up again.  To slough off the person (even if they were a good person) they were before and continue on to greater things.  Our characters must choose to acknowledge their giftings AND their weaknesses, to accept help, to lead with understanding, and extend grace, even forgiveness.

I encourage you to re-read all of your favorites and examine why the protagonist was so easy to connect with.  You will probably find one if not all three of these things present in their journeys.  Also, ask yourself as a writer: “Where do I want my character to be emotionally/as a person by the end of this book?”

Hopefully this helps in your writing journey!


The Unprofessional – Neysa 😉

Links:  A Hero’s Journey


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