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!

Author: Heather Jackson

Heather is a freelance screenwriter, game writer, and novelist based in Toronto. For more, visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW

2 thoughts on “Choosing the Right Character Arc”

  1. Hi there – It’s always interesting to see the steps a writer has to take behind the scenes. Very helpful advice for this wannabe author. 🙂

    1. Glad you found the post helpful! Sometimes I wonder if my struggles are too atypical to be relatable or useful to most writers, so it’s nice to hear that you liked the post. Good luck with your writing!

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