Character’s Inner Arc

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We all know that a character must grow throughout the course of a novel. But how do they grow and how do you Show-Don’t-Tell that growth?

playdoctorIt helps to know the beginning and ending points. And often, I like going straight for the end to see where I’m aiming. Let’s say that a person needs to decide to become a doctor. The opening scene is going to entice them somehow: they react to a medical emergency and do a good job.

Great. But something compelling–internally–also needs to keep them away from the medical profession. It can’t be just outside factors such as, my parents don’t want me to be a doctor. If this is the internal arc, it’s got to be something else.

For example, it might be that I want to be a great novelist instead. That was Michael Crichton’s dilemma: he went to medical school and paid for it by writing novels.

What readers want is to experience with the character the internal struggle: art v. medicine. Entertain v. heal.

Once you know the conflict that must take place, then you must devise intermediate steps. The enticement to heal v. enticement to develop your artistic skills can take several forms. IF you want the character to say YES to the medical field, then s/he needs to be firmly committed to the artistic field and fighting against every encounter with the urge to heal. S/he will only give into that urge when the situation demands it: perhaps, dear ol’ Dad is sick and the character must help heal him. (Or course, our character can’t do it entirely alone, since s/he is untrained, but s/he can do something to stave off an infection, give first aid, etc. until real help arrives.)

Once you know those intermediate steps, then you can go back and make each decision extremely painful for your character by playing with the plot.

It’s not easy to see this progression sometimes; but it’s essential.

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1 Comment
  • Ruth Donnelly
    February 5, 2011

    Great post; that’s a really helpful way to look at character arc. Love the accompanying photo, too!