Saturday, 28 January 2012

Character Arc and Plot Structure

Since I seem to have caught a tinkering bug concerning my VOICE post, I am going to get this little insight into writing off my chest first. What I would like to talk about today is patterning a character’s, usually the MC’s, emotional journey after the plot structure of your novel creating a two-fold outline, combining action and character arc peaks.

Have you ever struggled with how to account for the emotional journey of your MC against the backdrop of your action sequences?

Plot structure -
At times I am clear on my character arc and clear on main events in my story line, but I need to take an extra step to assure that my peak moments carry the right emotional triggers next to the twists in the story line. Peaks in the plot usually accelerate the narrative or change the direction of your story. While serving as triggers for action, they can also jump start character change in your MC. 

Following the displayed plot structure model, I use the opening sequence/introduction for setting the scene and displaying the basic character traits of my MC. For example I could go with Lynn, a shy, harmony-loving, emphatic twelve-year old. In order to outline Lynn’s shy and harmony-loving personality traits in the introduction, I would indirectly involve her in a conflict situation in which she acts more as an observer –e.g.: a school yard bullying scene.  Her empathy would be shown in her care of the victim after the attack, but at the same time, her flaw would become obvious. She is a coward and not standing up for what is right.
The inciting moment in turn triggers an emotional response which sends her on her journey towards bravery and self-respect. Lynn who has avoided the wrath of the bullies so far, suddenly finds herself the target and out of fear is forced to do something against her will. Fear as an emotion combined with her deep empathy could easily swing into anger and self-disgust which often serve as emotional triggers for change. Consequent peak moment in the building section of the novel would then confront Lynn with different emotional experiences forming her new character.

During the building phase changes of scenery often serve as a great way to tell backstory and allow new impressions and triggers to push the story and character arc forward. Taking Lynn out of her school environment, for example, will put the bullying into perspective against a bigger scale – the real world.  At the same time, the broader perspective gained through looking beyond the class room will expand Lynn’s horizon in terms of self-awareness. I imagine it would be a great experience for Lynn to volunteer at a retirement home. The life experiences of the residents would act as a further catalyst for her change. Adapting to a new environment would give Lynn the emotional maturity and self-awareness to redefine herself in the school environment. In another peak moment, it would give Lynn the opportunity to recognise that her role in school is her choice cemented in how she reacts to the bullying. 

The climax is reserved for Lynn’s breakthrough moment: She overcomes the bullying problem and at the same time validates her new personality traits. Lynn confronts the bullies and stands up for her friends, maybe even getting the miscreants to repent. The emotional trigger here could be relief and a feeling of accomplishment. 

The resolution/conclusion would then describe her new reality and show case her gained emotional maturity. If you wanted to add an extra twist to the climax, you could also let Lynn’s character swing into an unexpected direction where self-assurance bleeds into arrogance at the triumph over her bullies. Lynn emerges as the leader of a new bullying band.

That is where the creative licence of an author takes centre stage. The important thing I learned, however, is that I can match each peak moment in my plot structure with an emotional trigger propelling forward my character arc while at the same time accelerating my narrative through the action.

No comments :

Post a Comment