In a previous post I looked at how character arcs rise and fall and promised to look at applying character arcs in fiction. I have multiple novels in progress, linked in a series, looking for meaningful, satisfying character arcs. Somehow I have to apply all that received wisdom of writing coaches and authors.
First Book, First Arc
Two protagonists come together in Medias Res at the start of Book One. Referring back to our Three Scales of Character, both are highly Competent in their skill sets. Jovanka, our heroine is moderately Likeable, and highly Proactive, but is she empathetic and relatable? Varla, our hero is difficult to like and nowhere as proactive as he thinks he is. Varla, the ‘Gray Rider,’ is hardly the White Knight she’s looking for.
Through the first book, Varla’s internal conflict is overcoming his self-imposed isolation, building trust so he can let people in. Her conflict is overcoming the isolation and abuse in family, race and gender. Along the way she commits a major breach of trust and has to rebuild relationships. He tries multiple times to push her away. She keeps secrets. He has to fill the empty vessel that he’s become in the course of a war.
Fortunately the grumpy curmudgeon can’t help himself but ride to the rescue, ultimately letting others in. To use the back-handed compliment, ‘he has his moments,’ and those push him up the Likeable and Proactive scales. He has to accept his nature as a helper/rescuer.
Jovanka gains in Competence, but more importantly she gains a clear(er) sense of perspective, which is ironic for a character with Second Sight.
Second Book, Up and Down
Book Two continues with the pursuit of found family. Varla has to become a surrogate father, Jovanka the leader of the family she assembles. There’s multiple breaches of trust resulting from her secretiveness. Sometimes she’s in denial of the truth. She also has to master her wayward abilities, discover certain truths about the past and forgive her blood relatives. She re-ascends the Proactive scale, taking charge of her own destiny, for better or worse.
Third Book – All About Family
In Book Three, they choose to put the entire family in direct danger, walking into the lion’s den to end the very lion that threatens them. Jovanka has to confront a dark past and accept the real prospect of self-sacrifice.
Varla slowly rises up the Likeable scale by his steadfast loyalty, honesty and persistence. He is only Proactive when faced with a problem to solve (usually at the point of a sword). His Competence is rarely in doubt.
Jovanka has the more difficult arc, with all those secrets and lies counting against her. We don’t doubt her physical courage. As an action heroine she couldn’t throw herself into any more danger, more often.
The Path to Wisdom
These character arcs are not straightforward ascending curves, rising toward ‘perfection’ or ‘enlightenment.’ They are more like sine waves rising and falling with each incident in each book. The ‘baggage’ doesn’t just disappear. Often a satisfying character arc includes learning to deal with life’s baggage. Not overcoming it, just not getting dragged down by it.