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Wild, Wacky, and Woolly Character Arcs January 23, 2011

Posted by laurenrobbins6 in Characters.
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While plot arcs are somewhat important in the novel structure, I find that without believable characters, they are like a car with no gas. Characters are the soul/fuel of the novel. Take Exhibit A,(*shudder*) Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. Or (the more pleasant shudder), Exhibit B, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Even their titles suggest that these are character-centered novels. And even novels that don’t profess to be character centered ARE, in fact, character centered.

If you take out all of the characters from a novel, you have (aside from a very creepy Ray Bradbury short story) absolutely nothing. You have no “whodunnits”, no love interests, no angsty teenager worrying over something, no running around the moors, no quest. In fact, you never even get out the front door. And, if you’re like me, a book captures your interest more if it starts with “Marcy decided one day to meet a loan shark” than “It was a bright, sunny day and the bees buzzed on their way to collect pollen” (no offense, Steinbeck…)

If characters are important to the novel, character arcs should be focused on even more than plot arcs (unless you are a TV sitcom). The most popular of these (and mythical) is: the character is fed up and leaves home, the character learns something about him/herself, and the character matures (coming of age-style).

Perhaps you want to try something a bit different: the character is arrogant, the character decides to save someone (or the world), and the character changes for the better, perhaps becoming humbler.

But what if you really wanted to go WILD? What if you just wanted to keep your readers guessing as to who or what your characters really were? Maybe you write about a thief who tries to go straight only to fall into prison again and then has a revelation. Or maybe you’re making your readers guess WHO the character is: a character tries to mask their identity or gets amnesia (this latter example is the premise of a very good series by Anne Perry).

This can also decide, in a large part, your plot. If your main character is a gorilla who has just escaped from a zoo, for instance, you can’t create a plot around white-collar crime (unless, of course, you add some other characters).

But never, NEVER write an atavistic character arc! This would be the character who changes for the better and then goes back to his/her life before without learning anything. A very depressing and anti-novel indeed. Even anti-heroes change a little bit–a small insight into their situation or a bit more wisdom.

Anything with a plotline–be it a drama, a movie, a play, a novel–has some sort of character arc if you’d care to find it. In fact, it’s usually staring you in the face. And if you are concious of it, who knows? Maybe your next party trick will be acurately predicting what will happen next in a movie based on what you know about the characters.

Squirrels, Traffic, and Sales: The Saga Continues November 13, 2010

Posted by laurenrobbins6 in NaNoWrMo 2010.
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This post will be dedicated to all the things that keep one from fulfilling one’s word count for the week. It’s safe to say that this is officially catch-up day for me as I have only had time to jot down a few handwritten pages during my lunch break this week.

Incidents keeping me from writing my novel:

1. A very sleek, large squirrel infiltrated our house through the chimney, was “chased” upstairs by our two lazy cats, and promptly proceeded to ravage my room. These elements I got simply from deduction save the part about the ravaging. I was the eye-witness for that. And the really ironic part was that this is not the first time that’s happened. Since there was no large, squirrel-shaped hole in my wall, and a picture frame had been knocked over on a shelf that my very round cat could not possibly reach, we know it spent a little time in the living room. The flue had been left open and one of my cats sniffed very suspiciously around the fireplace–it had come down the chimney. And finally, I saw it in my room. Where it panicked. And was very difficult to chase out. As a result: word count dropped.

2. Sales: there was a very nice, spur of the moment sale at a department store in my mall. Result: word count dropped.

3. Traffic: The commute is long and dark enough without traffic and accidents. Heavy traffic ensued sometime in the middle of the week and I got home later than I had planned. Result: word count dropped.

However, I think that I’m making headway in the character development at least. In one scene I have three different characters talking to one another and their dialogue sounds different…hopefully. This is very important and a really hard element to obtain. Because without characters, your story inevitably flounders. Of course, clichés also get you places in that you can have two different clichés and call them characters. But making your characters different from one another really is the most difficult part about writing a novel.

As an illustration of this, a very long time ago, I wrote a story where two characters were the same people from different dimensions who had the same name and were essentially the same person. Eventually, I had to give them different names because it would have been confusing, but this is precisely an example of what NOT to do.

Writing in characters is like a little paradigm shift. Sometimes, your character will have a different viewpoint on life that you might have. Or they might just take their coffee differently. Either way, in order to be convincing, your characters have to be individuals and not just your little puppets (which can sometimes lead your novel in surprising directions).

Now, time to catch up on those words…

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