Creating Character Arcs The Masterful Authors Guide To Uniting Story Structure Plot And Charact
By applying the foundation of the Three-Act Story Structure and then delving even deeper into the psychology of realistic and dynamic human change, Weiland offers a beat-by-beat checklist of character arc guidelines that flexes to fit any type of story.
Have you written a story with an exciting concept and interesting characters-but it just isn't grabbing the attention of readers or agents? It's time to look deeper into the story beats that create realistic and compelling character arcs. Internationally published, award-winning novelist K.M. Weiland shares her acclaimed method for achieving memorable and moving character arcs in every book you write.
KM Weiland 8:12 I think this is something that I mean, obviously, this is something I think about a lot. It's been a focus of, of my own writing my own journey as a writer, and also the things that I teach on my website and through my books. But something that I have really been thinking about a lot lately, particularly in response to a lot of the big name movies and books that we're seeing right now is I think that, that we're seeing that one of the biggest problems that we see is a lack of realization, that character and plot are not separate, they are two sides of the same coin. And you cannot have one without the other and still end up with a an excellent story. Something that I harp on a lot, is cohesion and resonance. I think that benchmark of great fiction is something that presents both it's a story that is cohesive, it presents a whole that is all of a piece and it has it has something to say and that what it has to say is is one unified thought. No, that also good. Also, go ahead.
KM Weiland 9:21 I was just gonna continue to say that resonance is part of that is again, kind of the flip side of that, in that you can have a really cohesive story where the plot works great. And the end, the characters all seem to belong within that plot. But if it's not looking deeper into saying something that's beneath the surface, you really miss out on that resonance. So in joining cohesion and resonance, I find that that pretty much begins and ends with joining character and plot.
Alex Ferrari 9:48 Now, I'm assuming you're a movie goer, you see movies, okay, so I'm assuming you watch Marvel movies and you watch Big fans, the big and the DC movies as well. And not such a big fan. Exactly. So I was gonna ask you, what makes Marvel what Marvel's doing whether people like it who listening who like their movies or not? They're doing something, right? Because it is resonating with an audience and a large audience at that. And a worldwide audience is that, whereas DC is not, and they arguably have more popular characters, you know, how did Black Panther destroy everything? Including the biggest stars? What? What happened there? So I don't know if you want it. I don't want to get into a Marvel DC battle here. But But just as on a story, character plot standpoint, what is Marvel doing so well, that DC just does not get other than obviously, the Chris Nolan, Batman's?
KM Weiland 10:44 I think that fundamentally, I think that Marvel started out with the vision for what it was doing in DC is kind of playing catch up at this point. They're trying to copy Marvel success rather than than creating their own vision for what they're doing. And I think that's fundamentally what's happened. Marvel, I mean, has certainly had many entries within the series that are not prime examples of great storytelling. Absolutely. But I think that overall, the what they've done is created an atmosphere where there's leeway for those mistaken entries. Because they've created an overall story where people are identifying and interested in the overall plot, and particularly what they've done with character, I think that they have done an excellent job, particularly with their primary their Cornerstone characters of Captain America and Iron Man. And I think that that what they've done is they have they've been willing to be really honest with these characters. I think the Captain America movies the last two Winter Soldier and civil war, particularly good example of this, in that they did, they did things with the characters that were not what you usually see in these kinds of movies. And I think that they did that from a place of honesty about who these people really are, rather than necessarily who audiences have been trained to expect their their action heroes to be.
KM Weiland 16:13 Okay, so the, the key to any change arc is that you're looking at a, a swivel between a lie that the character believes, and a truth that he's either going to find and be positively transformed by, or that he's going to reject and therefore be negatively impacted and changed by his inability to absorb this truth. So the character in positive arc, the character is going to start out believing a lie. And this lie is on some level going to be a survival instinct. Something has motivated this in his past that has led him to believe that he needs this lie to survive, to be able to claim his self worth or you know, just to survive in an environment that enables this line. And then over the course of the story, you know, the conflicts going to enter his life and create situations where he's going to be forced to recognize that this lie is no longer viable, slowly, it's going to become less and less effective for him in a forcing him into this place where he has to face this truth, which is, should be always a painful truth. Because if it's not, why hasn't he absorbed it before. So it's very much a story about, about sacrificing the easy things that we we hold on to that enable us and prevent us from growth. And reaching out for the powerful truths that may be difficult, but in the end are going to be very freeing and allow us to move on and deal with our flux in a way that is empowering. And then obviously, negative arcs are, are basically the opposite of that, in that the character ends up with a worse lie in a worse place than he started out.
KM Weiland 20:47 First of all, I think it's important to differentiate between the idea of a villain which is a amoral term, and antagonist, which is not antagonists have no moral alignment within the story. They're simply someone who is opposed to the protagonists plot goal, they're an obstacle that's getting in the protagonist, soy, and presumably vice versa, the protagonist is getting in the antagonists way. So you don't necessarily have to come out of story from this idea that oh, the protagonists, a good guy, morally speaking. And the antagonist is a bad guy. morally speaking, obviously, often we we let we resort to that, like that archetype for many different reasons. But I think it's important to start from realization that just because someone is an antagonist does not mean that he is morally incorrect. And I think that then frees us up to understand the role that an antagonist plays within a cohesive story form. And that is someone who is a foil for the protagonist, not just on a plot level. But if you're going to gain that resonance that we talked about, it has to be something that also is a foil for the protagonist thematically within that character arc, as well. And I think that's where we see the Marvel movies kind of going awry with their antagonists, in that very few of them are really good examples of antagonists who matter to the protagonist journey, they're just kind of tacked on so we can have what fights either plot their plot points, if you will plot devices. Yeah, exactly.
KM Weiland 25:24 Okay, another important distinction, I think that needs to be made at the beginning of that is that a lot of people think my character doesn't change. Therefore, there's no arc in this story. Sometimes that's true. But sometimes it's not. Flat arcs are actually just as viable and sometimes even more powerful a story arc as our change arcs. And what happens in these stories is that there is still a story of change. But what happens is that the character, the protagonist, starts out the story already in possession of the main thematic truth. So he's already got a handle on, you know, pretty much a handle on whatever's whatever's the central question of the story is, and then throughout the conflict, he is able to use that truth to transform the world around him. So it's a world that believes the lie, and the protagonist is able to transform that world, and essentially, quote unquote, give them the truth. Again, Marvel example, Winter Soldier, the second Captain America movie is a good example of this.
KM Weiland 28:23 Yeah, totally. It's, it is a, the this I like to look at story, to me story is ultimately about theme, it is about the character's inner journey. And the plot in order to be cohesive to that the plot is basically a metaphor, an externalized metaphor for that inner journey, in which you're dramatizing the this internal conflict in an external way. And obviously, they they influence each other the internal conflict is going to drive the external conflict. And the things that are happening in the external plot are going to force and catalyze the change that this character is, you know, struggling against, and the beginning of the story. And then is, you know, slowly as the story continues coming to this place of realizing that yeah, this is really hard, but I have to do this, if I'm going to, you know, improve as a person and reach any place of, of inner freedom.