Character arcs. There’s something you will hear about in most writing advice (as usual, at least for fantasy and YA which is my genre of speciality).
The definition of character arc is the transformation that takes place over the period of a story.
But I want to ignore that definition for a bit. Because, I don’t think that’s realistic to expect every important character to have an arc throughout the whole story. They might have an arc at some point, but, and especially in YA, there are probably characters that have already had a character arc before the story begins.
A lot of YA, we see parents, adults, older people in the life of our protagonists, and they too get arcs, usually learning to trust their children more and give them more independence or becomes a better parent if they’re not great! Lovely. However, sometimes there’s enough going on with our main characters and you can just have good parents who don’t need to change. And they don’t need to feel like bad character just because they don’t get an arc.
Because here’s the thing, we meet a lot of people in life, and some of those people are going to be amazing. You’re going to look at them and ask yourself how? How are they so organised? How are they so thoughtful? How can they speak so clearly? And they probably learnt to be those things over a long period of time, though trial and error. You meet these people at the end of their character arc. And the same can happen in your book.
Another thing to note here, is in a series. Your main characters will have a very long arc, several books perhaps. If I enter book three, I’m entering into the middle of a character arc. But here’s the thing, unless you’ve known someone since birth you meet everybody in the middle of their character arc. Despite this, you don’t feel like you’re missing a bunch of relevant information and you can’t understand them without their past.
Same should go for your character. At every point along the line they should feel like people. People who are growing or need to grow more. But they shouldn’t feel like a stepping stone in a story. If when a reader picks up the book out of order and doesn’t enjoy a character the response is, “you’d understand if you’d been here since the beginning and seen their growth…” Well, perhaps you should work on writing that character better.
Note, I’m not saying a reader who’s been around since the beginning won’t have more appreciation. They will. Same geos for your story and your stakes. But a new reader still needs to understand and enjoy the character (unless it’s supposed to be an unlikable character).
I hope I managed to get my point across here. This might be a bit more rambly than usual because this subject is perhaps a bit more out there than what I usually talk about. If you have anything to add feel free to add it!
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What’s your favourite character arc in fiction? What do you think makes a good character arc? Ever loved a character who didn’t have an arc?