Hello folks and happy Friday!
The other day I blogged about conflict, and the all and ever familiar (or not so familiar) concepts of internal and external conflicts. Today, we attack the character’s arc.
Every character has to be as realistic as possible to be believable. The psychology of a character plays a really huge role in the plot and the overall quality of the story. Many timeless tales have shed light on a character’s evolution throughout a perilous journey by diving into the character’s mind. His/her internal conflict, coupled with the external conflict, gives depth to the plot, and more room to play to create a beautiful arc.
The arc is your beginning and ending point. Each character has its own arc. The story itself has an arc too. The arc can be huge, if your protagonist is the main player, or it can be very small for secondary and tertiary characters. The size of the arc doesn’t matter. ;) The arc will act as a measuring stick for the character’s evolution throughout the story.
Let’s take an example: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. There are many characters in this book with many arcs. Let’s focus on two of them, Javert and Jean Valjean.
Beginning of the arc for Jean Valjean. A good man, trying to do the next right thing by stealing bread for his sister’s children during a time of economic depression, Valjean is sentenced to spend years in prison. He becomes this despicable character in the eyes of society. The world sees him as a bad person, unworthy of trust and love. Picture his arc growing from the ground up.
Javert is depicted as the ultra self-righteous police officer who doesn’t believe in forgiveness, and redemption. His arc actually starts high and gradually goes down.
Valjean will mature, and evolve, to become this man everyone loves and respects, even when he tells the truth about his past acts and demands to be brought to justice.
Javert will turn into a bitter individual, bloodthirsty for revenge, becoming the super villain everyone will hate. Javert will realize that his sense of justice was wrong, and Valjean, despite being a criminal, was a better man than him all along. He ends up taking his own life because he cannot accept that truth.
Valjean and Javert represent the sides of the same coin, and their arcs certainly bear similarities. But as Valjean’s arc goes toward good/order, Javert’s arc goes toward bad/chaos, his sense of justice morphing into abuse of power and personal vendetta.
Readers will root for Valjean. Who doesn’t want the underdog to win? Javert could have earned some stripes if Hugo had decided to shift his arc upward toward good again. But he didn’t do that.
A well executed arc will manage to draw the readers in and keep them glued to the pages like it’s cocaine (it’s actually an expression I heard from fellow authors when talking about books they devoured in one sitting).
The arc offers thousands of possibilities, shapes and directions. There can be a million plot twists, which will shape the arc with multiple peaks and valleys. The arc can never be a straight line (because a straight line doesn’t show evolution). That’s why an arc is called an arc, and not something else. ;) Ultimately, the arc will reach its high or bottom. However you want the character to evolve, a powerful arc will resonate with readers and make them addicted to the story and the character. Bear in mind that a character can evolve while not radically changing his/her point of view. The storytelling will guide the character to a cross-roads (climax of the plot): change or remain the same but there must be evolution.
I’m pasting a link to a great article about the character’s arc, and a few diagrams with links to other very helpful blogs below. Please feel free to share!
That’s it for today. Have a lovely weekend folks!