Character Arc and Structure


I have settled back into my writing, although not quite as regularly as I would like. Some projects are moving along well but I am struggling with my draft of the medieval fantasy trilogy.

I am stuck with my main character’s arc in book two. I have her overall story clear in my mind but it is at the individual book level that I’m stuck. Although the series covers one main story I would like each book to be a complete story in itself. And I’m not sure at this stage that what occurs in book two could be considered as complete.


Character Arcs

I came across an article on Twitter last week about not mistaking the need for character change for a complete change of character over the course of the story. It was a timely reminder that my character needs changes as she develops over the course of the story. Over the course of this series my character undergoes a number of changes, or experiences some form of change, and yet in book two she appears to experience very little.

KM Weiland has actually produced a whole series of articles on character arcs and they are all brilliantly useful (see links below).


Do I really need to have an arc?

Whether the characters changes (either positively or negatively) or the environment or world/setting changes around them there will be change. And this change will impact on the character and their choices. This in turn will impact on the other characters around them and the events of the story.

So, yes, in some form a character arc is going to be needed.

This will be linked to the story structure. For the story must move forward.

For my story I need to ensure there is a clear change for the character (not that she becomes someone different) over the course of the series and in some part over each book in the series.

When I look at book two there seemed to be more change around her but it is those changes that influence who she is and who she will become. In some ways she discovers that the world around her is not what she thought it was.

I did think that perhaps it was a flat character arc but once I mapped out the structure and the main points of the story, there was change in my character. Granted some of that change is that she learns of her own worth and strength but it is a development of her character.


Story Structure and Character Arc

I decided to look at the structure of the book and see if that would help. And it does. And the reading I’m doing (more links below) connects the two together.

At the beginning of book two my character is quite lost although she tries to appear strong, and then a major incident throws her for a loop and she is left feeling helpless.

By the end of the book my MC has discovered her world around her is not what she thought and that those closest to her have deceived her in some way also. She actually finds herself more scared at the end of the book which is where she starts the third – thinking that all is lost and that nothing will be as it ought to be, but she is stronger and better able to survive the situation.

I need to consider that her story is over all of the books and although she changes and grows it is only part of the bigger story. Because her ultimate development is across all three books.

There is still a lot to work out. And this is only a first draft. But when I stopped to think what would I do if this was a stand-alone book it didn’t help. It is a long story, an involved story and it needs (I think) three books to tell it. If it was looking like it was all happy and settled at the end of book one why would the story continue into book two?


What this means for me

Having a better understanding of the structure of the MC’s story and her arc for this book will help me to complete the draft, by filling in the missing pieces of her story. Learning how she interacts with the other characters and their actions is a part of that understanding and will impact on her growth and reactions as it will on theirs.

Story structure and character arc are intertwined. Even though I have a clear idea of how the MC’s story fits into an appropriate structure it is a matter of ensuring that she grows and learns from what happens to her (and so far she seems to be). And it will still only be part of the bigger story.

Much of the fine tuning will occur in the editing process. At the moment the drafting is a matter of getting the story down and making sure it develops in a sensible way. In some ways I think it is easier to learn about the characters and how they grow or can grow by drafting them in the first place. My characters can get carried away and they are usually fairly strong in dictating which way they think they should go. And quite often they are right, but for those times that they aren’t I need to be sure I know where they should be.

Writing this out has helped me to see how I should progress this story. This is a reminder for me that journaling is a useful process and that I could be unwinding these problems there rather than with you. But I like to share and it could be that my struggles on the screen mean less struggles for your writing.


Useful links

KM Weiland articles:

Character arcs

Figure character arc


Other useful articles

Novel 7 point structure

Plot and structure

Building a character arc

Putting a character arc in your novel

Johanna K. Pitcairn