Poet Victoria Zackheim and best-selling mystery novelist Anne Perry covered character arcs in their master class, “How to Write Your Book,” and addressed two important points. First, what the character wants is not always what the character needs. And secondly, characters must change, for good or for bad.
Victoria gave this example of what both women termed the perfect character arc:
A little boy wants a specific thing – in this case a red bicycle. The boy’s parents tell him they cannot afford to buy him a new bike. So, the boy works very diligently to raise the money to purchase the bike on his own. The boy finally has enough money to purchase his red bike and goes to buy it. As he’s standing in line waiting to pay for it, he overhears the man in front of him say that his neighbor’s daughter is seriously ill and her parents can’t afford her medication. The boy finds the girl and her family and instead of buying his new bike, gives them the money he worked so hard to raise.
We know what the boy’s wants and desires are, the obstacles he overcomes to achieve his goal. We learn how his character changes at the end – in this instance for the good of someone else. Pretty powerful.
Anne is the author of numerous historical mystery series, and she pointed out that a character arc can cover more than one book, which is often the case with her characters. Another important aspect is to visualize your characters as they talk. In real life. we move as we talk, so references to body language, facial expressions and gestures are a must. There should also be a character arc for every single chapter, as well as a plot arc – all of which connect to the spine (main plot) of the story.
Read more of my key takeaways from the “How to Write Your Book” master class: