In a previous post, character arc was discussed. According to KM Weiland, gaining an understanding of how to write character arcs is a game-changing moment in any author’s pursuit of the craft. Weiland is the creator of the Helping Writers Become Authors blog, a deep well of information on the multiple aspects of the writing craft.
Weiland devotes over a dozen articles to character arcs, linked here. A story should begin with The Lie Your Character Believes. This lie is the foundation for the MC’s character arc. It’s his “normal” and is what is wrong in his life. Everything may be grand for the MC (or not), but festering just under the surface is The Lie.
People hate change. We hang out safe in our comfort zones and our characters are no different. They resist change just as we do. Weiland says that is okay because out of resistance comes conflict, and out of conflict comes plot. Plot is more than just a protagonist working toward an external goal. It’s about the MC’s inner goal, the thing he can’t get all because of The Lie.
A protagonist should start the story with something lacking, some way he is incomplete internally. He probably doesn’t realize it, or at best, has a vague understanding of it. He may not be affected by it or in denial of it until the inciting incident. Weiland compares it to a tooth cavity, shiny on the outside but decayed just below the surface. A writer should introduce The Lie early and show how the MC is deeply established in it through his “normal” world. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens sets Ebenezer Scrooge’s normal as one of work, work, work. There is no time for Christmas and other such folly. The poor and destitute have only themselves to blame and will get no help from him. This establishes his Lie: that a man’s worth is only measured by money.
The next leg of the character arc is what Weiland calls What the Character Wants/What the Character Needs. It is related to The Lie.
Every plot line features a protagonist striving for a goal, something external. When creating character arcs there needs to be two, the surface goal and something that matters to the character on a deeper level. The Lie is at the heart of the secondary goal. The Thing Scrooge Wants - money and lots of it - bolsters his Lie of personal worth is measured by wealth.
At the story’s beginning, the MC doesn’t realize he has a problem. He believes chasing the Thing he Wants will bring fulfillment. Yet, pursuing it only entangles him deeper in his Lie. He can only find contentment in seeking the Thing he Needs. What he needs is the truth.
Your main character will spend the story unknowingly seeking the Thing he Needs, while in pursuit of the Thing he Wants. What he Needs is usually not physical. Often What he Needs is merely a realization, a new perspective that will change the way he views himself. He Needs the truth. Without it, he will not grow. He’ll either stagnate in the negative beliefs that’s holding him back, or he’ll digress even further. Ebenezer Scrooge Needs to see that true wealth comes not from money, but from a connection with his fellow human beings.
Characters are complex little creatures. They’ll lie to themselves, wish for things they think they need, and ignore the things they need.
(This article also posted at http://utahchildrenswriters.blogspot.com)