Last time we talked a little about Character Arc in general. Today we’re going to look at the various aspects that shape that character arc. I love chatting about characters because they’re the bedrock of your novel, and one of the aspects that makes for a great story is watching these characters grow, change, and (in HEA books) become better/stronger than they were in the beginning of the book.
I posted a picture of Gandalf the Grey because I absolutely love his character - AND Ian McKellen does a superb job of playing him.
Again, what is a character arc? Well, it's the growth, or decline, of a character overtime. In most of the novels we read, the character arc is a growth from a lesser developed character to a more developed one.
I’m focusing my discussion on character growth instead of decline, since most books take this perspective.
Just like "real people", characters are shaped by several different aspects of their environment. We can incorporate one main ‘shaper’ into our novels, or use a variety of them. Here are the primary character ‘shapers’.
Lots of novels use circumstances to shape characters. These can be circumstances from the past (which is a big one) or those happening in the story’s present. For example, in my debut novel, The Thorn Bearer, my heroine struggles with a very deep wound from her past (her father’s abuse), but is also faced with countless circumstances in her present (jilted, Lusitania, war). These circumstances have shaped who she has become and also continue to shape her growth.
2. Other people
Both in the past and present, characters are shaped by those people around them. In A Twist of Faith, my heroine, Dee Roseland, has most of her character arc through her relationships with the people in her present life that contradict the distorted relationships she knew from her past. Circumstances influence her some, but the biggest ‘shapers’ in her character arc are the people in her life.
3. A character’s own self talk
This may sound weird, but it’s powerfully true – not just for our characters but for ourselves. The voice we hear the most, is the one in our heads. Our own. It has an amazing about of influence on our thought patterns, actions, and growth. That’s why what we tell ourselves has such a lasting impact on us – so filling our minds with Scripture is a mighty weapon against the ‘lies’ that many times sneak into our self-talk. The same thing happens to our characters. What lies are they telling themselves that must be changed in order for them to become who they need to be by the end of the story? In my upcoming novel, Just the Way You Are, my heroine does a whole lot of self-talking, and the reader gets to watch how her insecurity-talk changes as she moves through the story.
4.In fiction from those with the Christian world view, characters are shaped by their faith...which can go along with self-talk, but more than that it’s the Holy Spirit within our characters, guiding and shaping them through all three of the previous ‘shapers’. As in our own lives, God the Spirit has a powerful voice to slice through the lies, the influences, and even the misinterpretation of circumstances, to place our thoughts and hearts into right perspective…and this would be true for our characters too :-)
Remember, shapers are purposefully placed tools in the hands of an author. Usually, they’re not halfhazard designs to add a little pizzazz, but strategically placed plot points to deepen a character’s arc. Just as God “works all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose”, as authors, the ‘shapers’ we place in our characters’ lives serve a purpose – a plan.
As a side note: Sometimes the character arcs are very clear for the protagonist, and sometimes the greater character arc happens in different characters than the protagonist, because of the protagonist’s existence. I think Darcy and Lizzie grew a little as characters because of the influence of each other in their lives, right?
So…what are some shapers you’ve noticed in what you’re reading or writing? Do those shapers usually come in the form of people or other things?
Share your thoughts :-)