I had trouble with my female character in This Is the Place at first because her character arc was to start out with her needing to get some understanding (and backbone!). I wanted to keep my modern readers and still stay true to that arc. The novel is done but it might benefit all to discuss this.With her permission, I’m posting my thoughts here.
Having a character (either modern or set in an historical time period) who is weak in some area is definitely okay. It would, in fact, be realistic. As people, we’re all weak in some area or even several areas. A character who is strong in every aspect (male or female) would be more fantasy than real. Even ultra-strong characters, like Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp, has his weaknesses. He can be hurt in both body and heart and he sometimes misjudges how others will view his actions. If you read Robert Fate’s Baby Shark series, you know sometimes when Baby Shark sees someone in need of help, she steps in first and thinks later. She’s also a loyal friend who puts others above her own safety.
Those “weaknesses” don’t sound so bad, do they? Maybe not, but they’re still weaknesses and cause problems.
Another good thing about having characters with weaknesses is that you can use this “flaw” to show the character’s arc. If you’ve read Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, then you know your protagonist needs to go on a journey over the course of the book. S/he needs to grow as a person and ultimately find the elixir that not only solves the problem or crisis, but shows that s/he has overcome the weakness.
This works in books, whether your character lives in 2010 or 1910 or 1110.
Another plus to having a character who is weak in an area is that your readers can identify more easily with this type of character. We may want to be strong and invulnerable, but we know we’re not and we see ourselves in characters who are struggling to overcome any faults they feel they have. When those characters grow and change or gain insight, we cheer for them (and ourselves).
And lastly, if you’re writing an historical character, be true to that time period. Women of a hundred years ago faced different problems and situations than women of today. What we consider “strong” may not apply to an earlier time period. And what was considered strong back then may be “weak” today. But what is consistent is that the desire and effort of characters (people) to grow, change and overcome is considered strength in all time periods.
Thank you, Carolyn, for asking about character arc.
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When I emailed Carolyn to tell her I was going to use her comment for another Ask The Editor post, she made a great point:
Movies have the same problem. They open with a character you don't like or feel lukewarm toward. Then as the Arc proceeds, one is glad one didn't leave the theater. The trick is, just how do we keep people in their seats until the character starts to see the light.This is a great topic for all writers to think about. Let’s see if we can get a discussion going here in the Comments section. I’d love to hear what you have to say.
author and freelance editor. You can visit her website and blog, Straight From Hel, follow her on Twitter, or subscribe to her free newsletter, Doing It Write, now in its eleventh year of publication.