I find myself in the writer’s temple, and before me lies a series of booby traps. These traps won’t kill me, but they do have the power to kill my story if I don’t watch my words and steps. What is the trigger to this trap? The ever challenging character arc.
Yes, the character arc, that change that happens in every good lead of every great story. The growth they experience between pages and frames that puts them on an internal journey as well as an external one. Why the character arc is so powerful, Indiana Jones uses it to melt the faces off Nazis!
Okay, we’re not talking about that kind of arc, but this is still one of the most important aspects of writing.
Our novel Never Heroes is the first in a series of four books, which poses an interesting challenge in the way of the character arc. Developing a character over a series is tough because you can’t complete the arc on the first go around, but you still need to show your character transforming somehow. Yet you also can’t just do the same character arc over and over again or else the audience will just roll their eyes and groan.
“Seen it.” They’ll say.
And that’s the trap I find myself in. I plan for my lead to undergo some pretty profound changes in temperament and character, yet still want them to contain the same snide personality they have in the opening pages. Even by the closing of the first book, our hero has grown by quite a bit, but there’s a very long way for him to go before he’ll be willing to do what my planned ending calls for.
My challenge it seams is breaking down that transformation into specific beats and using each of the three sequels to focus on one change at a time.
It’s something I like to call the mini-arc, a series of small changes that on their own are distinct, but when you put them together you’ve got a character who is irrevocably changed.
Take my favorite series ever, the Indiana Jones movies. Each of the original three focus on one aspect of Indy’s character. The first one is about him rekindling an old flame and falling in love with Marion once more. The second one is when he sacrifices his own fortune and glory for the sake of those who need protecting. Last but not least, the third shows his strained relationship with his father and insinuates that is the reason he became a treasure hunter in the first place. Each are distinct stories that focus on the same character, yet each focus on a specific aspect not addressed in the other two.
And let’s just not talk about that fourth movie.
I’m in a similar situation with my lead. My hero has become…well…a hero by the end of book one, so what else does this entail? What does this new responsibility mean for him? What things will he need to abandon and what things will he pursue in their place? I’ll have to think a lot about before I start writing book two. The good news is I may have an answer for just what aspect of this change the second book will focus on. The third and fourth books however will still need a lot of work.
If I don’t put in that work, I’m not sure this story can outrun that giant boulder just itching to crush the next failed draft.