Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Remember the Arc

©Ragne Kabanova
Dreamstime Stock Photos
Who wants to read a book where nothing happens, and everything is rosy? Well, maybe some readers prefer such an escape, but more often readers look for change.

One way to achieve change and pique your readers' interest is by providing a character arc, and offering hints or reasons for how it was achieved.

Note the holes and cracks in the arc in the front of the above picture. Then check the arc by the window in the same picture. One has flaws, the other appears perfect.

Not everyone is perfect. Your job as an author is to make sure your characters have flaws, and show how they can or cannot overcome them.

Here are two characters who could be works in progress if they were in a book.

One is Miley Cyrus. If you were writing about her story, you'd depict how and why she evolved from the Hannah Montana nice girl of the Disney Channel to that of the infamous twerker at the MTV VMA's award show.

Was she secretly wild all the time, or did she make a conscious decision to get noticed and in the process change her image from that of a child to a wild woman? Was her famous father, Billy Ray Cyrus, approving or shocked by her behavior? Or, perhaps the behind-the-scenes instigator? All sorts of possibilities exist to explain the evolution, also, consequences down the line.

Another example is Justin Bieber, who was allegedly speeding a Lamborghini in Miami Beach, Florida on January 23 while allegedly driving under the influence. Is this the case of a sweet young man whose fame went to his head? Or, merely that of a person under immense pressure finding it necessary to let off steam?

Countless other possibilities can be woven into a story about him. If you were writing a mystery, he could be an upstanding entertainer whose soft drink was secretly spiked by a jealous rival, resulting in Justin's erratic behavior.

These are a few examples taken from recent headlines. Can you think of others? Or maybe you'd like to provide an example of a different type of arc from yours or someone else's book.


Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. For romantic comedy: Her Handyman & Girl of My Dreams. Thriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse Short Stories Sequel: the Blessing or Curse Collection. Romantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two Wrongs Twitter: @MorganMandel Websites: MorganMandel.Com & Chick Lit Faves

25 comments :

  1. Perfect, Morgan. You faithfully followed the adage "Show, Don't Tell." By using real people, your lesson came across perfectly clear. I'm glad I didn't miss this. Thanks.

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    1. Thanks, Celia. I couldn't help thinking of those two, since they've been in the news so much.

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  3. I wonder how different genre writers would handle these two characters. Would the romance writer have them hit bottom and emerge because of love? Would the literary author end the book with tragedy? Would the contemporary author find them seeing a way back and leave it there? So many possibilities, and such good examples to work with. Nice post, Morgan.

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    1. Thanks, Polly. Yes, tons of possibilities for these two real life characters, depending on the genre. And, since their stories are not over, we could make them each have a series. lol

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  4. I'm certain both celebrities will write books and inspire movies about their shenanigans. But if you were to use such a character's fall, the arc should probably end with a new (healthier/wiser) status quo or a new rise. Unless you like downer endings, then it could be a Shakespearean tragedy. Life is like fiction, you don't necessarily write the plot, but you do have to overcome the obstacles created for you. My experience has been that every time my plot felt serene, something has come along to ripple the pool. :)

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    1. Unless you write like Stephen King and prefer dire endings.

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  5. One of the first writing lessons I learned was "Only trouble is interesting."

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    1. True, a perfect day for a perfect character will put a reader to sleep.

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    2. That's why I just had the hero in my WIP shot. :-) He lives, of course.

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  6. Great post, Morgan. It is always so much fun to take real-life events and play with them to see if a story emerges. That is the way several of my novels began, and the creative challenge for me was to create that arc. As Diana said, for an incident to become a novel it has to come to some kind of satisfying end. You gave great examples to stir imaginations.

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    1. What's interesting is we don't know how the stories will end for these real-life people.

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  7. You're right. A story must have events otherwise it's boring. Real life events can be fictionalized in an interesting manner.

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    1. Sometimes the first notion should be put aside in favor of being meaner to your character.

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  8. Troubles work in books because they're true to life. Whose is perfect, right? Hopefully, those two spoiled little rich kids will get their heads on straight before they travel all the way down the paths of Lindsey Lohan, Cory Monteith, and too many others who let fame and fortune go to their heads and catapult any sense of what's good for them (and their positive images as role models) out the window.

    We can certainly create scenarios that allow our characters to get appropriate comeuppances (or not). Yes, we need conflict, trouble, minor obstacles, outright brick walls, and other character-building (or character-assassinating) elements in our stories. Then we let our characters muddle through them and come out (hopefully) on the other end after dealing with the devastating experiences and moving on.

    Great post, Morgan!

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    1. Thanks, Linda. Coincidentally, The Parent Trap version with Lindsey Lohan was on TV last night. She was such a cute, sweet looking kid!

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    2. Unfortunately, something happened to send her down a different path -- or what we saw was simply acting, and she was already headed down the road of self-destruction. Sad...

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  9. Miley vs Justin ... hmmmm, Morgan, I think you just came up with VH1's next reality show.

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    1. That would be something, all right, Christoopher!

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  10. Totally agree about the story arc! There must be conflict, issues, flaws, or you don't have one!

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    1. Which means being mean to our characters often is being mean to ourselves, because we have to get them out of their predicaments somehow!

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    2. Or, as a workshop at a romance writers' conventions said, "Put your heroine up a tree and shoot at here."

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  11. Hi Morgan,
    What a refreshing blog. I sometimes get blinders on my story world and forget about the zaniness in the real world. First, let me say that your photo illustration of arcs is wonderful. While the inner arc is perfect, my eye keeps getting drawn to the imperfect one. It's more interesting to me, which is why I enjoy flawed characters. Your real world examples of two youngsters finding a different kind of limelight does make one take pause and wonder - how did these things happen. One day, probably in the next year or so, someone will tell these kids' Life Stories and we'll find out.

    Makes me wonder if I didn't know now what I didn't know then - how different would my life be? I like to think I've learned from my mistakes, LOL!

    Great post. Maggie

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    1. Yes, it would be nice to be young again and know what I know now, but I have to settle for enjoying my senior years!

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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