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. 13: Answers to Lingering Questions About the Journey Through the Character Arc

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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 look back on our Journey Through the Character Arc with File No. 13, which answers questions we might have and that readers have posed during the series.

Analyzing the components of character evolution is no easy task. So is using those components to craft a protagonist’s path of growth through an original story. Thanks to our recent Journey Through the Character Arc series, which focused on 10 stages for developing a positive arc, we’re now equipped with a step-by-step process and targeted questions that can help us develop such a path that’s logical and compelling. But have Files No. 3 through 12 answered all of our questions about character arcs? Probably not.

So, for File No. 13, we’ll explore some of those questions. For example, can the order of the 10 arc stages be rearranged? How closely should those stages align with a story’s plot structure, or with the percentage milestones or lengths recommended in each post? Plus, if you found each arc stage’s questionnaire beneficial, check out the final section for a special worksheet announcement! Continue reading

The Character Evolution Files, No. 12: The Journey Through the Character Arc, Stage 10 – The Emergence (Resolution)

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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 conclude our journey through the stages of the character arc with File No. 12, which focuses on the Emergence (or the Resolution).

Today we reach the end of our journey through a positive character arc. And while some writers prefer to end a story immediately after the Moment of Truth / Climax (Stage 9), doing so doesn’t always give readers the sense of closure they desire. Nor does it allow the protagonist to show final proof that she’s fully committed to the truth that undermined her false belief. That’s where the final stage of character evolution, the Emergence (a.k.a. the Resolution), comes in.

So, let’s give the Emergence its time to shine in Character Evolution File No. 12. We’ll learn how it reflects the protagonist’s changed self compared to the Trigger / Inciting Incident (Stage 1) and the Comfort Zone / Act I (Stage 2), and discover why it’s more abstract in some ways that other arc stages. We’ll also check in with our example characters one last time to see how they’ve begun to live according to their truth. Continue reading

The Character Evolution Files, No. 11: The Journey Through the Character Arc, Stage 9 – The Moment of Truth (Climax)

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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. 11, which focuses on the Moment of Truth (or the Climax).

Every previous stage of character evolution, from the Trigger / Inciting Incident (Stage 1) to the Aftermath / Act III, First Half (Stage 8), has led to this one. The protagonist must now take the truth he has accepted in place of his false belief and apply it to his final confrontation with the antagonistic force(s). The trick is, he can’t merely show what he’s learned through dialogue or thoughts. Instead, he must demonstrate it through action so that other characters and the reader can see he has changed for the better. This scene (or sequence of scenes) is the Moment of Truth, the climax of the protagonist’s arc.

This second-to-last stage in the Journey Through the Character Arc is our focus for Character Evolution File No. 11. We’ll examine how the Moment of Truth attempts to rock the protagonist’s faith in his new truth, and how this stage’s outcome doesn’t always give the protagonist everything he wants. We’ll also revisit our two example characters and learn how they take the final steps toward commitment to their newfound truths. Continue reading

The Character Evolution Files, No. 10: The Journey Through the Character Arc, Stage 8 – The Aftermath (Act III, 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 stages of the character arc with File No. 10, which focuses on the Aftermath (or the first half of Act III).

After writing a story’s Dark Night of the Soul, we might be tempted to rush straight to the climax. That, however, doesn’t give the protagonist time to adjust to her paradigm shift. She needs time to reconcile herself with her rejection of her false belief and to form a plan for confronting the antagonistic force(s) and reaching her story goal. Her past arc stages proved that she can’t simply charge forward and get positive results. She needs to have an idea of what she’s doing – and it begins by exhibiting her growth in small ways.

This often overlooked stage of character evolution is called the Aftermath, and is the subject of Character Evolution File No. 10. We’ll study how, during a positive character arc, the protagonist deals with the consequences of her Dark Night decision and prepares for the finale. And, we’ll see what happens when our two example characters move further away from their growth-inhibiting lies and closer to their empowering truths. 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

Happy New Year – and Here’s to 2016!

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Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you had a enjoyable and safe end to your 2015; and would like to wish you the best in health, love, and creativity for 2016.

Also, I know I keep thanking you, the readers, for helping to make this blog what it has become… But, honestly, YOU deserve so much of the credit. Thank you for commenting on each post, sharing your thoughts and ideas, and sharing the links on your own blogs and on social media. Most importantly, thank you for your enthusiasm, encouragement, and thoughtful feedback. You put a smile on my face every day I’m here. 🙂

I used last year’s Happy New Year post to sort of “wrap up” the 2014 highlights for the blog and for me personally, and to look ahead to 2015. Since I was happy with the final product, I’ll do the same again for this year’s:
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