October 20 – Character Arc

Today I promised to talk about Character Arc. This is one of the things that I struggle with in my writing. My problem is that I want my characters to be perfect from the start, just like me. 🙂

Goal 1: I will work on my writing every day.

Perfect characters don’t make for a very good story. I have to admit that even I have gotten bored with my characters when things are too easy for them. So this time I am trying to work out some character flaws for my Valkyrie. Then I can see about helping her overcome them.

My character, Nicole, is a state trooper. She joined the force as a tribute to her father, who disappeared during a “boating accident” on a fishing trip when she was sixteen. The only thing she remembers is that a storm came up suddenly. She hit her head and was knocked out. When she woke up her father was gone and they never found the body.

The truth is that a monster attacked the boat and her father sacrificed himself to protect her. She has blocked out the memory from her conscious mind, but the experience has made her very protective of everyone else. This is the real reason she joined the state police. Other effects of her experience are an obsession with the legends surrounding the “Great Lakes Triangle”, and the occasional nightmare about tentacles coming out of the water.

My question now is how to use these character traits to tell a better story. Her obsession and nightmares are relatively easy. They can be used to create tension between her and her superiors in the force, as well as her friends and loved ones. The tough one is her overprotective nature. On the one hand, it is good trait for a police officer to have. And when she gets her Valkyrie powers she will be much more effective in keeping people safe. On the other hand, giving her those powers will make the tension level of the story drop. It would be a little like having Superman show up to get a cat down from a tree. He would have no problem at all with the little kitty. So what kind of Kryptonite can we put on the little cat’s collar to make things more interesting?

My mind turns back to the legends of the Valkryie. They are said to be sent to collect the dead heroes from the battlefield, so they can join the ranks of the Einherjar in Valhalla. So if Nicole is too protective, the heroes won’t die. If she is too effective, they won’t even be heroes, because she will be the one doing all the work. Somehow, I need to make her realize this, and then she has to allow someone to sacrifice themselves as a hero, just like her father did for her. And of course the person that would cause the most conflict for her with this choice would be her boyfriend.

My plan is to introduce this backstory and her obsession before she becomes a Valkyrie at the first plot point. She will learn to use her new powers and struggle against some supernatural foes, while in the background she starts to remember more of what happened in the boat. At the second plot point she will be pointed in the direction of the monster that killed her father, and which is now threatening her boyfriend. She will then be forced to choose to let him sacrifice himself for her and be a hero.

That’s the plan.

Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

Goal 2: I will participate in NaNoWriMo in November.

My library is undermining my prep work for NaNoWriMo. I now have three books to read in the next month, including REAMDE, by Neal Stephenson. The book is over 1000 pages long. The “good” news is that I only have two weeks to read it, so I have to finish it before NaNoWriMo starts. I took the afternoon off yesterday and managed to get through the first 200 pages, but there are still 800 to go. I’ll be spending most of my free time reading over the next two weeks, but I will still check in, and I will still be thinking about my story when I can, so I may be able to post some more information about how things are going. At the very least I will let you know when I finish this tome.

I may even post a review. So far the book is interesting, but my writing background is making me critique the story as I read it. For example, I am finding a lot of exposition in the book. Most of it reads OK, but some of it seems to fall into the “As you know, Bob” manner of explaining things. This is when the author does his exposition by having one character tell another the information as part of a dialogue. It can work if done right, and like I said, Neal does a good job of this most of the time. But due to my experience in the writing world, it caught my attention. It also makes me wonder how much of this manuscript is story and how much is Neal standing either behind his podium or on his soapbox.

Goal 3: Diet and exercise to lose at least 10 pounds by the end of this round.

I’m still dieting, but I haven’t been able to get back on the exercise bike yet. I don’t like reading while I ride. I have tried it before and it just doesn’t work well for me. I will try to get on again soon, but I’m not sure when.

Do you think my ideas on character arc will work? Or am I just being mean? Leave a comment to let me know what you think. I’ll be back on Monday to let you know at least how much I have read.

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3 Comments

Filed under Fiction, NaNoWriMo, ROW80

3 responses to “October 20 – Character Arc

  1. I like your story idea even though it isn’t in a genre I usually read. And I don’t even mind you killing off the boyfriend, although allowing him to sacrifice himself and still win might be interesting?

    Is there a way to braid that backstory through the plot points rather than explaining it before the first plot point. Seems like the potential action of your story might be thwarted with an info dump before any of it starts.

    Just a thought. It sounds like you’ve got a great idea!

  2. Ryan King

    Traits tend to tell us about a character and leaves impressions that linger in our minds when we think of them. Sometimes you can use those against the character to create a conflict, like what you’re suggesting. But also focus on the characters goals. What are their goals (short and long term)? What is stopping them from achieving them? What is their life like? How is their life also preventing them from achieving their goals? If you give her the powers that come with being a Valkyrie, then the obstacles need to be upgraded to match those powers. Beat your characters down. It’s the part where the MC stands up at the end, even after getting that beat down, that we love in stories. The harder the fall the more satisfying the return. You’re definitely on the right track! Good luck!

  3. I’ve written a series on Larry Brooks’ “Story Engineering”. Here’s the link to the competency on “Characters”, which I break down creating three-dimensional characters: http://rebeccaberto.wordpress.com/2011/12/22/the-best-advice-ive-learned-on-mastering-three-dimensional-characters-people/

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