Tag Archive: character arc

How to Straighten Your Story’s Spine

Sometimes I write a story where lots of exciting stuff happens, my protagonist is proactive and has a goal, and I’m hitting all the right beats (if you don’t know what those are, check out this post on the 15 Story Beats), yet the story still feels flat. What’s wrong? What am I missing?

The truth of the matter is often I’m not missing anything. I spend a lot of time developing my stories and I know all the story parts that I need to make a story sing, but effectively implementing those parts into a manuscript is a whole other challenge. In a manuscript, those parts can get out of whack or lost or muddy. So how do you fix it?

By doing something we screenwriters often call “tracking the story’s spine.” A story’s spine is the character arc woven into the plot; the two should always go together just like your vertebrae and your spinal cord. Tracking a story’s spine means making sure the protagonist’s transformation (arc) is addressed in EVERY SCENE of the journey (plot). Because after all, as I’ve said before (specifically in this post about character journeys), every story is about change.

So let’s get started…

To track a story’s spine, you need to know these 3 Basic Story Parts:

  1. What’s the Character Change?

  2. What’s the Inner Conflict?

  3. What’s the Big Story Question?

Part 1: In order to have a character arc, the protagonist needs to change. They have to start out one way (flawed and not the best person they could be) and end up another (flaw overcome and better because of the journey – that is if the story follows a positive arc; negative arcs are the opposite). For example, in my WIP the heroine starts out doing bad things like using people to try to get ahead. By the end of the story she needs to change into someone who doesn’t do bad things to succeed.

Part 2: Because of their character flaw, the protagonist will have an Inner Conflict. For a detailed explanation of what that is, read this post. In general, Inner Conflict is a desire for two things the hero wants (one of which is their outer Goal), but the catch is the hero can’t have both. So the whole story the protagonist must constantly choose between these two wants. Back to my WIP example, the heroine wants to be a better person (stop doing bad things like using people) but also wants a better life (her Goal is to escape the cycle of poverty by getting a college scholarship), yet she believes she needs to do bad things to achieve that. So yeah, she’s conflicted.

Part 3: The Big Story Question is the will/won’t issue based on the Inner Conflict. Basically, in my story the question is: Will the heroine get a better life? The writer must make the protagonist face that question in every scene, and alternate between scenes that make us and the protagonist think they WILL succeed, followed by scenes that make us think they WON’T. And this question always pivots on the protagonist’s Inner Conflict.

Not lining up the story’s spine is an easy blunder for writers to make, mainly because though we may KNOW the character’s arc, we don’t SHOW it in the plot. Note that I said “show” it, not “tell” it. You can’t solve this problem with internal monologue alone. The character transformation (arc) must manifest itself through actions (plot).

In conclusion, to straighten your story’s spine, check each scene for these 3 things and make adjustments accordingly:

#1 – Change. How does this scene influence your character’s arc? It can be a step forward or a step back, as long as something changes.

#2 – Inner Conflict. Which “want” is your hero leaning towards in this scene? Make sure to alternate this from scene to scene. After all, a hero who favours one desire over the other isn’t very conflicted.

#3 – Big Story Question. Does this scene ask the big, overall question? If not, your story has probably veered off course. Either cut the scene or revise it to make it relevant.

You can test your own manuscript, or a book you’re reading. I bet a million smiley face emojis that books that aren’t very engaging don’t have straight spines! Let me know in the comments what you find out. 🙂 Now I’m off to straighten my story’s spine…

 

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5 Overlooked Pixar Storytelling Tips

Pixar Tips For WritersI bet most writers have heard of Pixar Studios. They are the huge animation powerhouse that is now owned by Disney. They’re best known for a string of huge blockbusters films, all earmarked for family viewing. Even if you don’t make a point of watching Pixar films (and by the way you should), you may have stumbled across a helpful and widely shared infographic about the 22 storytelling basics attributed to Emma Coats, a former member of the Pixar creative team.

After watching hours of Pixar movies with my kids, I’ve realized there are some less well-known Pixar tricks. Some of the things I noticed relate to the Pixar 22, while others aren’t mentioned at all. However, I can say with certainty they show up time and time again in Pixar’s films.

Heather and I both love watching movies and they’ve taught us a lot about story craft. Heather wrote about her experiences in a post called Watching for Writers. I’m following her lead today with 5 overlooked storytelling tips I learned from watching Pixar films.

1. Have a Theme:

Pixar admits to loving a good theme; it’s number #3 on their storytelling list. What they didn’t mention is the themes they like best are always about the value of self-sacrifice. It shows up when Flick ventures into the unknown to save his ant hill in A Bug’s Life. We see it with Eve, who is willing to put everything aside as she strives to finish her mission directive in Wall-E. And it’s in Brave when Merida finally accepts her role in preserving the safely of her clan, even if that means marrying someone she barely knows. Whatever the storyline, putting personal needs aside for the sake of someone else is a critical stage in almost every Pixar film. In some, such as Brave and Cars, this realization shows up in the climax as part of the character’s change. While in other stories, like in Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, the safety of others is always something the characters are willing to fight for.

2. Give Characters Opinions:

Number #13 on the Pixar list is: give your characters opinions. However, what isn’t mentioned is reversing those opinions is also critical to the formula. At least one character will always revise their core opinions of another character during the course of the film. It shows up in Finding Nemo as Marlin learns to let go and trust others (including the wacky Dory). And it’s in Cars as Doc realizes that beneath McQueen’s bragging is a kind heart. Revising popular opinions is one of the core plot points of Monsters, Inc. The whole society is based on one belief: that frightening children will produce scream power and save their world from a power shortage. Yet they must revise that core viewpoint in order to survive. Characters with strong opinions are fine, but knowing when and how to revise those viewpoints is makes characters great.

Eve3. Value Teamwork:

Pixar says in their number #19 storytelling tip that coincidences are perfectly acceptable for getting characters into trouble, but they are not acceptable for getting characters out of trouble. In almost every film, it is teamwork that gets Pixar’s characters out of trouble. The value of teamwork is a concept that shows up with both good and bad repercussions in The Incredibles. It’s even Mr. Incredible’s moto, “I work alone!” that ultimately drives his number one fan Buddy to a lifelong quest to kill all superheroes. Lightening McQueen shows the same disregard for his pit crew in Cars. Later both characters realize their mistake and make amends. Mr. Incredible accepts the support of his whole family, and McQueen builds a new pit crew and decides to stick with his original sponsorship team. Playing into this aspect of teamwork, Pixar always reminds us of the value of family. When Remy marshals the other rats into helping him cook (Ratatouille), or when the ant colony stand up to Hopper and his gang (A Bug’s Life), it is solidarity that gives the hero their strength. The reoccurring role of community and family factors into almost every Pixar climax.

Backup Antagonists-14. Include Extra Antagonistic Forces:

Pixar favors clear-cut villains. There is often nothing redeemable about their bad guys, and several of them (most notably Hopper in A Bug’s Life and Mor’du in Brave) meet with a rather gruesome end. Pixar villains are young and old, male and female, and even robotic with the 2001: A Space Odyssey homage to Hal of the villain Auto in Wall-E. Pixar also favors what I like to call the back-up antagonist. This is a character who is not the main antagonist and is often not inherently an evil character, but adds significant tension to the protagonist’s life anyway. It’s often the back-up antagonist that sparks the protagonist to make a critical change in Pixar films. Later these back-up antagonists will often evolve into a supportive role. We see this with Anton Ego the bitter food critic who later champions Remy’s right to cook in Ratatouille, and with Mirage changing sides and handing over useful information at the end of The Incredibles. There is also Doc who switches from McQueen’s jailer to his mentor in the second half of Cars.

Toystory 25. Secondary Characters:

Pixar likes strong male friendships and almost all of their films have a sidekick character, included in their huge casts of secondary characters. These characters are frequently quirky and easily distinguishable from the other characters because Pixar gives each character (from service robots,  to slinky dogs, to caterpillars) a collection of critical attributes to make them interesting. Unfortunately, that means some of these secondary characters are stereotypes or even caricatures, and in terms of female or minority characters there are sadly too few. Still each minor character creates an impression on the viewer and we remember them. From the adventurous and trusting Dot in A Bug’s Life, to the neurotic dinosaur in Toy Story, to the no-nonsense clothing designer Edna of The Incredibles. These are fleshed out supporting characters and we know who they are and what they want.

What do you think? Is Pixar doing a great job as a storyteller? Do these fives aspects of the Pixar model help or hinder the storytelling experience for you?

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Character Need: Psychological + Moral

I’ve been reading writing craft books for almost two decades, and it’s gotten to the point where most of them don’t tell me anything I don’t already know. But recently I had a creative crisis that prompted me to look hard for new information, and after a couple misses I came across THE ANATOMY OF STORY by John Truby. I highly recommend you check it out. I’m not going to regurgitate the book’s content here; I’m simply going to highlight a small tidbit I found in Chapter 3 that has completely changed how I approach developing a protagonist’s journey…

Character Need-PsychologicalMoral

Early on in my career, I learned that the hero’s WANT and NEED are two separate things and integral to the Character Arc. Let’s refresh…

WANT = What the hero desires and believes will make them happy. WANT is the motivation behind the hero’s GOAL.

FLAW (personal characteristic) + LIE (personal belief) = What prevents the hero from achieving their GOAL.

NEED = What will actually make the hero happy. The NEED overcomes the hero’s FLAW and counters the LIE they’ve believed up until the Climax of the story. Recognizing this need is what prompts the hero to change; acting on this need is what allows the hero to triumph in the end (which may or may not involve achieving the original GOAL).

Note: The above applies to stories with a positive character arc rather than a negative character arc. Also, an arc period. Some people don’t think having the hero change is a necessary part of a story. I do simply because I prefer stories where the hero changes and am disappointed with stories where the hero doesn’t change. But I recognize that this is my opinion and not the law.

Now back to this Character Need thing…

Notice the use of the word “personal” in the definitions above. Most students of writing craft learn that the hero’s NEED is something deeply personal that affects the hero. Truby calls this a “psychological need.” However, he also identifies another type of need: moral.

“In average stories, the hero only has a psychological need [that] involves overcoming a serious flaw which is hurting nobody but the hero. In better stories, the hero has a moral need in addition to the psychological need… [which is] hurting others.” — John Truby, The Anatomy of Story, pg 41.

So, if there are two types of NEED, there are two types of character FLAWS: psychological and moral. Sometimes a psychological flaw (such as alcoholism) has an obvious moral flaw (hurting the ones you love) attached to it, but not always. Take a psychological flaw like low self-esteem. How does that flaw hurt others? It’s easy to brainstorm ways, but up until now, this is not something I’d ever made a point of doing. And I realize this was a missed opportunity to: 1) add more poignant conflict to the protagonist’s relationships; 2) create deeper stakes; and, most importantly, 3) perfectly intertwine Character Arc and Theme.

In my post The Controlling Idea – Not Your English Teacher’s Theme, I talk about how a story’s Theme always revolves around a human value, and when we test values we are debating morals. But before coming across this concept of a hero’s “moral need” I had developed Character Arc and Theme separately. I knew each was affected by the other, but my process was more like putting two things side-by-side and trying to make them complement each other. Now I approach Character Arc and Theme as puzzle pieces that fit together and develop them in tandem.

This was such a lightbulb moment for me, and made my WIP’s character revelation scene finally click into place. I’ve been playing with the character arc for months. It’s always been connected to the theme, and there was a moral flaw in there somewhere too, but before I clearly identified the moral need, I hadn’t been able to really focus my heroine’s character change into something powerful. Now I think I have.

In conclusion, the tiniest writing tips can be just what you need for a story breakthrough.

PS – Are you wondering why Dustin Hoffman from the movie Tootsie is in the title card? Well, because his character is a perfect example of psychological and moral need working together, as John Truby discusses in THE ANATOMY OF STORY.

 

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Character Development: The Reaction Chart

Creating characters to populate your novel or screenplay is a lot of fun. You get to devise different backgrounds and opinions and alliances and secrets and all kinds of interesting stuff that brings the cast to life. But you can have the most detailed character sketches and richly drawn cast ever, and your story could still fall flat. How? It all comes down to how your characters react.

Character Reaction Chart

A couple months ago I wrote a post about how characters interact with each other (Character Development: The Interaction Chart). Today I’m focusing on how characters react to story events. This is especially relevant with ensemble casts who are together as a pair or group for much of the plot, common in such genres as horror, buddy comedies and heists.

I’ve created two types of Reaction Charts: General Emotions and Plot Points.

The General Emotions Reaction Chart

This one is handy for the brainstorming stage and/or the pantser who doesn’t plot out their story. Put the general emotional situations your characters will likely encounter together in the top row, and the character names in the left column. That top row will differ depending on what genre you’re writing. You can have as many columns as you need. Here are a couple examples I came up with…

General Emotions Reaction Chart — Comedy Reaction Chart - ComedyGeneral Emotions Reaction Chart — Horror

Reaction Chart - Horror

The point of making this chart is to ensure the characters don’t react the same. I was reading a book a couple weeks ago, a creepy horror that started off pretty good, but as the story went along I became bored. Why? Because even though the characters had different POVs and personalities, every time they faced the monster, they all reacted exactly the same way! Why have three characters if they’re all going to do the same thing? In my opinion, the fun of an ensemble horror is seeing how each character reacts, who is going to screw up, who is going to fight the monster, who is going to run from the monster, etc. If everyone reacts the same, you might as well just have one person encountering the monster (or going on the road trip, or robbing the bank, etc), and that simply isn’t as interesting.

The Plot Points Reaction Chart

This chart is for the plotter who made an outline, or for the pantser who is done their first draft and wants to check their characters’ reactions to actual story events. Basically, this is a handy way to see how each character reacts to the major plot points of the story. (For a review of these plot points, check out this post: The Basic Story Beats.)

Reaction Chart - Plot Points

The point of making this chart, besides to diversify your characters’ specific reactions to the plot, is to track how the characters’ reactions change as the story progresses. For example, a character who reacted by rushing into danger at the beginning might learn to hold back and plan first before confronting the enemy. We all know our characters should grow and change, but sometimes it’s hard to see how that is happening within 300+ pages. That’s why I find this chart so useful.

What about you? Do you chart your characters’ reactions? Or do you have another way to keep track? Let me know in the Comments!

 

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5 Tests for Writing Multiple POVs

Multiple POV means writing separate scenes from the viewpoints of different characters, staying in one character’s POV for an entire scene and not switching to another character’s POV until a new scene.

Stories with multiple POVs are difficult to write. I’ve read more books that attempted this technique and failed than books where multiple POVs not only worked but improved the story. But recently I began reading Neal Shusterman’s Unwind series and OH MY GOSH GUYS the first two books blew my mind with how well the multiple POVs were handled.

Unwind book series

Here’s a basic list of what Shusterman did right:

– Each POV character has a distinct outlook on the situation (main plot problem and world of the story).
– Each POV character has a unique role to play that affects the main plot.
– Each POV character has a fascinating and fully flushed out character arc (they change).
– Each POV character has their own complete storyline (no one is a mere sidekick to the others).

These are all great things to have in your novel even if you’re not telling it from multiple points of view, but if you are, these things become absolutely essential. Now the big question: if you’re writing a novel with multiple POVs, how do you know if you’re pulling it off? Well, I’ve made a little test for that.

Test That POV – is it warranted or unnecessary?

1) Does this POV character disagree with the other POV characters? Even if they’re pals, they better not have the same outlook or their POVs are redundant. The foundation of great multiple POV stories are characters with wildly different opinions and perspectives on the same situation.

2) Does this POV character give the reader crucial information regarding the main plot that could not come from another character? If yes, then you have a legit reason for telling the story from their POV. If another character could give (or worse does give) the reader the same information or perform the same actions, then this POV character is unnecessary.

3) Does this POV character change by the end of the story? If no, then this person isn’t affected enough by the plot to warrant telling the story through their eyes. Stick to POV characters who are deeply affected and changed by the story because readers will care about them more, and caring is what keeps people reading!

4) Is this POV character the hero of their own story? In other words, if you took away the other POVs, would this character still tell a complete story? For example, in Unwind the three main POV characters are Connor, Risa and Lev. If we only had Connor’s POV, we’d still have a complete story with an inciting incident, rising action, crisis and resolution, we just wouldn’t know as much about the situation (i.e. everything that happens outside of Connor’s viewpoint). Same if we followed just Risa or Lev. All of these characters could have carried the whole novel from just their POV, but the story is richer because their individual plots weave together. If a POV character couldn’t be the hero and carry the story, then they’re unnecessary.

If you’ve done this test and concluded that your POV characters are all necessary or discovered POVs that weren’t and cut them, the last thing to do is write a few scenes that switch between the POVs. But before you give these pages to beta readers, take out identifying names and gender hints. Replace all names with “Character” and all gender identifying pronouns with “they”, and ask your beta readers this:

Test That POV – is it distinct?

5) How many POVs did you read?

If you had four POV characters but your beta readers only identified two, a couple of your characters’ voices are too similar. Find out which ones and work on making them distinct.

It’s a lot of work to write novels with multiple POVs, but if done right, you might just blow some lucky reader’s mind. (Thanks Neal Shusterman!)

 

Footnote: For those who’ve read UnWholly, you know there are DOZENS of POV characters, too many to be heroes most people would argue. After all, some of these POVs are only used once or twice! However, each POV character is majorly affected by the story, even if just for that scene, and each experiences a change and gives the reader information no other character could know. So, impossible as it sounds, this test actually works on that novel. Honestly, that book blows my mind!

 

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X is for X-Ray

BLAST_XWhat does “x-ray” have to do with writing craft? I didn’t choose it just because I needed an “X” word for the #AtoZChallenge, or because I already used “x-rated” for last year’s post (X-Rated: Should YA Books Have a Rating System?), but because all writers need to be able to check the spine of their story. Hence, we need to x-ray our novels to see the bones.

Stories are about transformation, a journey that changes the hero. In screenwriting, “checking the spine” means making sure every scene in the story informs and affects this change. I do this at the outline stage when I have all my scenes laid out and summarized into paragraphs. If you don’t outline, you can make a scene list based on your draft, writing one line for each scene.

3 Tips for X-Raying Your Story

  • Check for spine scoliosis. Is there a bend in your story’s spine? A place where you went off track and lost sight of the hero’s journey? Straighten it up by making sure every scene contributes to the journey.

  • Look for slipped discs. This is a scene that, though it began as a crucial point in the plot, now (after many revisions) has slipped out of the main plot and is hurting your story. Either bring it back to where it used to be or cut it out.

  • Assess bone density. Is every scene solid and dense and packed with intrigue regarding the hero’s journey? Look for weaknesses, like scenes without active goals or conflict or stakes. If just one of these is missing, it weakens the entire story spine.

2 Examples of Straight Story Spines

These are supposed to be short posts, so I’m not going to break down an entire novel for you and show you how every single scene informs and affects the hero’s journey, but take my word for it that THE HUNGER GAMES and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS both do this extremely well.

1 Link for more help

I talk in more detail about how every scene needs conflict, stakes and change in this post: 3 Things that Keep Your Story on the Road (not the Goat Path).

Well that’s it for me in this Blogging A-Z Challenge! Robin has the last two letters! Coming up:

Y is for Young Adult

Z is for Zymurgy

It’s been a blast! 😉

 

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I is for Internal Conflict

BLAST_IA couple letters ago, I talked about External Conflict – all those forces in the universe that are bumping up against the protagonist. Now we’ll discuss Internal Conflict – the sometimes black hole of doubt within the hero. Like External Conflict, Internal Conflict must get in the way of the hero achieving his goal. Most importantly, Internal Conflict forces the hero to make hard choices.

3 Tips for Writing Internal Conflict

  • Find your hero’s flaw. Inner conflict often arises from a character flaw. This is common in superhero stories where the hero has a powerful ability he can’t always control. So he’s always conflicted about using this power to achieve his goal, weighing how much it can help versus how much it can hurt. 

  • Use your hero’s fear. Fears make great internal conflicts, and can be anything from a fear of heights to a fear of failure, as long as this fear makes it difficult for the hero to achieve his goal.

  • Challenge your hero’s morality. Characters with beliefs that counteract their goals are always interesting to read! War stories and crime dramas often feature heroes that are morally at odds with their situation.

2 Examples

FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe features a character brimming with internal conflict. First of all, she’s a recovering drug addict, and this daily struggle affects every aspect of the story. Second, her and her dead best friend share a secret that causes her a lot of emotional pain. Third, her attraction to her dead friend’s brother gives her all kinds of conflicting feelings. A character so full of flaws, fears and confused morality makes for a great read!

HOW TO LEAD A LIFE OF CRIME by Kirsten Miller has a fascinating protagonist fighting to maintain his moral standards at a school for psychopaths. Now that’s some powerful inner and outer conflict!

1 Link for more help

Since Inner Conflict is the basis of a great character arc, here’s a post on How To Create A Character Arc using what we talked about in this post: flaws, secrets, fears and morals.

And in case you’re just dropping in now, here’s our April A to Z list thus far:

A is for Antagonist

B is for Backstory

C is for Character Change

D is for Dialogue

E is for External Conflict

F is for False Stakes

G is for Genre

H is for Hero

Coming up:

J is for Juxtaposition

K is for Kittens!

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C is for Character Change

BLAST_CIt’s appropriate that I got letter “C” since Character Change is something I frequently write about on this blog. That’s because it is so crucial! I think it might even be the most important part of a good story. So, with that in mind, let’s launch this baby!

3 Tips for Writing Character Change

  • Don’t make your protagonist too perfect or they won’t have a need to change.

  • Consider who your hero must be to win in Act III, and make sure they are the opposite of that in Act I.

  • Character Change can’t come out of nowhere! The hero has to be foiled by his imperfect self all through Act II, so that when he is faced with his failings at the Crisis moment, he’s motivated to change.

2 Examples of Great Character Arcs

Have you guys read RED RISING by Pierce Brown? It’s an awesome YA sci-fi novel that takes place on the planet Mars, and is an excellent example of a hero with a flaw that gets in his way, but the flaw is not obvious so neither the readers nor the hero recognize it’s a problem until the end – when he must overcome it to win!

Another great example is the film ALIEN. Sigourney Weaver’s character Ripley’s flaw doesn’t necessarily seem like one at first – she is a stickler for protocol and trusts her superiors. But, of course, by the crisis moment both the audience and Ripley realize that this is exactly why she is in such a pickle, and it’s time Ripley breaks some rules and disobeys or she will die!

1 Resource for more help

Ha! Just one? I have like dozens! Okay, well, if I had to direct you to one it would be “Reading For Writers 101: Character Change Part 2”. Of course, there is also “Character Change Part 1” and this post about “Unforgettable Endings” of which the main component is Character Change. There’s also “How to Story Edit Using the ‘Save The Cat’ Beats,” which is basically a checklist to make sure your hero changes. And there’s even more suggestions in the “Posts You Might Like” section below.

Well, that should give you lots to read. A good thing since space missions are notoriously long – reading material is a must!

 

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Choosing the Right Character Arc

Choosing Character ArcTwo weeks ago I blogged about How to Create a Character Arc from Plot, followed my own advice, and came up with… multiple character arcs for my heroine. Yep. At least four or five, and I’m not sure which one is the right one for the story. What’s an I-have-too-many-ideas writer to do? Well, here are a few different approaches:

Pick one and roll with it. This is what my pantser friends would advise. Don’t waste time worrying about which option is the best, just write one! Roll the dice or play eenie-meenie-miney-mo or pull an idea out of a hat, whatever works, and start the story. The upside to this approach is it could turn out great and you didn’t waste any time deciding! The downside is it doesn’t and you waste time on a substandard novel. Choosing this option requires writers to have faith – in the story gods and/or their own abilities. But if you lack that faith and prefer a more scientific approach, the next couple options may suit you better.

Plot it out. Test your ideas by writing a beat sheet. I use the “Save The Cat” model. Once you map out the main plot points with each character arc, it’s easier to see every idea’s strengths and weaknesses, especially if you use this Story Beats Editing Checklist.

Pitch. Write a pitch or synopsis or practice query letter for each idea. This is the most helpful to me. I can usually make all my ideas work logically in beat sheet form (I am good at fitting puzzle pieces together), but when I have to pitch an idea, it forces me into the reader’s shoes, a place where I can more easily recognize the character arc with the most appeal.

But what if you still have a couple ideas, both of which are solid character arcs and equally intriguing? How do you choose?

Listen to your heart. Did I really just suggest something so corny? Yes I did, because sometimes the idea that is the easiest to pick or plot or pitch is not the one you, the writer, connects with the most. I have gone down the road of writing novels that work plot-wise and pitch great, only to realize partway through that I don’t care about my heroine’s journey. Often this is because her character arc counters my own beliefs. For example, the theme of “love conquers all” and accompanying character arc of “loveless heroine finds love” has wide audience appeal and pitches well, but goes against my conviction that love doesn’t conquer all and a heroine doesn’t need love to succeed. Someone else could write that romantic character arc splendidly, but it would ring false if I wrote it. 

Bottom line: the right character arc is a personal choice. Test it, review it, choose it, and start writing!

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