Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Character Arcs

When I started writing I was entirely plot driven. I had a story I wanted to tell, an adventure where people got into difficulties and had to find a way out. Then I realised that no one would care about my story if they couldn’t identify with my characters.

It is difficult sometimes to remember that the characters have to progress as well. Characters must be well-defined and rounded, so that readers can get involved in their story. The main character(s) have to have their own development, have to go on their own journey. Sometimes I forget that.

So what do you do when the novel is already written, and you don’t know whether your characters really have a story arc of their own? At the time Intruders was 58,000 words – that’s a lot to pick apart and look for character arcs. Then I had an idea.

I made a spreadsheet! Listen carefully. Column 1: Chapter and Scene number. Column 2: Scene title. Then one column for each character – I put main characters first, then everyone else in alphabetical order, to make them easier to find. Then I went quickly through each scene and noted down under the relevant characters what each character did. It only took me a couple of hours while watching TV.

Character arcs spreadsheet

Then, I made a tab for each character and copied columns 1 & 2 and the character’s column to the relevant tab. Having separated the characters, I could go through each tab and delete all the blank scenes (where the character didn’t appear). Bingo! Each character’s arc. Now I can see where the holes are.

Character arc Enns

As you can see, the first three chapters are largely about Enns, she has a part in chapters 4 and 5, but then nothing until 8, then 12, then 14. This may be fine according to the story, but it does highlight where she’s missing, and I had to think if I was happy with that.

Sometimes they are only minor things, but still important. For example, Balitoth is missing from the first part of the story because he is in hospital. I realised after doing the analysis that when he comes back, no one comments. That’s odd. Surely his crewmates would be glad to see him.

I found this extremely useful. I think it’s definitely worth doing, as one of the checks when you’re editing.

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