The Character Evolution Files, No. 14: Aligning the Protagonist’s Character Arc with the Story’s Plot, Part 1

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Welcome to the Character Evolution Files! This column focuses on character arcs, from the elements that create or enhance a character’s inner journey, to techniques that writers can employ to strengthen character arcs in their own work. Today we continue our studies with File No. 14, which serves as Part 1 of our examination of the parallels between story structure and character arcs.

If you’ve been following the Character Evolution Files, you may have noticed that the story’s plot and the protagonist’s character arc are tightly connected. But how do we ensure this connection exists? How can writers “time” the arc’s stages precisely so that they occur in tandem with the plot’s events? The answer lies once again with the protagonist and her response to those events – because they’re going to change her life, and who she is, forever.

Today, in Character Evolution File No. 14, we’ll start a two-part study on plot-arc alignment. We’ll learn a dual strategy for creating and maintaining this connection between a story’s external and internal elements, and why that connection exists in the first place. Then, we’ll begin a Journey Through the Character Arc “recap” that examines each stage with our new strategy and poses questions we should consider each time. If this sounds a bit weighty – well, now you know why I split it in two. 😉 Continue reading

The Character Evolution Files, No. 9: The Journey Through the Character Arc, Stage 7 – The Dark Night of the Soul (End of Act II)

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Welcome to the Character Evolution Files! This column focuses on character arcs, from the elements that create or enhance a character’s inner journey, to techniques that writers can employ to strengthen character arcs in their own work. Today we continue our journey through the stages of the character arc with File No. 9, which focuses on the Dark Night of the Soul (or the end of Act II).

Characters, like real people, can tolerate internal conflict for only so long. When they reach their breaking point, there is no right solution, but an only solution. In the case of a positive character arc, the protagonist has dealt with all kinds of stress and upheaval while working toward his story goal. And after the Charge, which tugged him back and forth between his false belief and its opposite truth, he’s about to snap. It’s here that he arrives at the darkest hour of his evolution, and realizes he has but one solution for achieving his goal – or else he’ll fail.

Yes, the Dark Night of the Soul is the subject of Character Evolution File No. 9. We’ll cover how the protagonist finally weighs the pros and cons of his false belief and the truth, and how the scene symbolizes the death of the character’s old self. Plus, we’ll visit our example characters once again as they make their most important choice in their respective stories. Continue reading

The Character Evolution Files, No. 8: The Journey Through the Character Arc, Stage 6 – The Charge (Act II, Second Half)

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Welcome to the Character Evolution Files! This column focuses on character arcs, from the elements that create or enhance a character’s inner journey, to techniques that writers can employ to strengthen character arcs in their own work. Today we continue our journey through the stages of the character arc with File No. 8, which focuses on the Charge (or the second half of Act II).

With the Revelation over, the protagonist resumes her forward march with a sense of enlightenment. She has learned why her earlier behavior impeded her progress toward her story goal, and now has a better idea of how to achieve that goal. But, has she truly changed yet? Will the rest of her path in the story be smooth and free of obstacles, or full of upturned roots that cause her to stumble? Most likely it will be the latter – and it will cause the protagonist to question her beliefs, both old and new. This stage of blind confidence is known as the Charge.

During Character Evolution File No. 8, we’ll discuss how the Charge deepens the internal war between the protagonist’s false belief and its opposite truth. We’ll also revisit our two example characters as they begin to take action in their respective stories, and how the steps they take toward their eventual evolution aren’t always so steady. Continue reading

The Character Evolution Files, No. 7: The Journey Through the Character Arc, Stage 5 – The Revelation (Midpoint)

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Welcome to the Character Evolution Files! This column focuses on character arcs, from the elements that create or enhance a character’s inner journey, to techniques that writers can employ to strengthen character arcs in their own work. Today we continue our journey through the stages of the character arc with File No. 7, which focuses on the Revelation (or the Midpoint).

Every stage of a character’s evolution is important. However, the previous four stages have been building to the story’s halfway point. All of the protagonist’s mistakes and choices so far come to a head now, forcing the protagonist to realize that things aren’t going according to plan – and his behavior is the reason why. This fifth stage of our Journey Through the Character Arc is what we’ll call the Revelation.

Thus, the Revelation is our topic for Character Evolution File No. 7. We’ll cover the emotional and psychological aspects that will put the protagonist in a state of “tug of war” between his false belief and its opposite truth. And, we’ll see what happens when our two example characters from literature are confronted by their respective Revelations, and how they change from a state of reaction to a state of action. Continue reading

The Character Evolution Files, No. 6: The Journey Through the Character Arc, Stage 4 – The Struggle (Act II, First Half)

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Welcome to the Character Evolution Files! This column focuses on character arcs, from the elements that create or enhance a character’s inner journey, to techniques that writers can employ to strengthen character arcs in their own work. Today we continue our Journey Through the Character Arc with File No. 6, which focuses on the Struggle (or the first half of Act II).

Now that we’ve passed the Point of No Return, it’s clear that the protagonist’s life has changed forever. That, however, doesn’t mean that the protagonist has also changed at this time. In fact, she’s bound to kick, scream, and deny her new circumstances. She’ll struggle to accept her new reality even though she has a clear story goal to work toward. However, she’ll also start to show her potential to change for the better. This back-and-forth wavering is the soul of Stage 4 of our Journey Through the Character Arc.

And so the Struggle will be our focus for Character Evolution File No. 6. We’ll learn about the contradicting forces that must be at work to propel the protagonist toward her story goal and wrestle with her false belief – and why the Struggle is one of the “meatiest” periods of character evolution. We’ll also continue following Aragorn of Lord of the Rings and Tris of Divergent as they lurch through this stage in their separate positive arcs. Continue reading