Writing Tips for Teens: Character Arcs
I’m posting #writingtipsforteens on the first week of each month. This month’s subject is character arcs.
In each novel or long story, things happen. Those events are called the plot. In great stories, the events that happen to the main character or protagonist lead to character growth. Sometimes the person—or alien or whatever—will learn something important; other times she will change a personality trait or flaw that is holding her back. (I usually use “she/her” pronouns for these posts but please substitute “he” or “they” or whatever makes sense for your character.) The character arc is the change or growth she experiences.
There are some literary patterns or traditions that are so common they have tons of books and articles written about them. You can use these if they fit your purpose. For example:
Here’s Your Dictionary’s explanation of The Hero’s Journey:
Here is Story Grid’s discussion of The Heroine’s Journey and The Virgin’s Promise:
Many books and movies use these, or variations of these, in their stories. It’s okay to borrow these, or elements from them. Or you can borrow from other traditions, or come up with your own plot and character arc. There are no wrong answers in writing a book—just make sure it fits what you’re trying to do and creates a story that will engage your reader.
Here are a couple tips:
Tie your main character’s conflicts to her character arc. If her biggest flaw is that she is too selfish, put her in a situation where she has to think of other people. Or if she always has to have things organized or planned out, make her fall in love with a spontaneous person who wants her to relax and let go.
Plan your plot so that growth happens in stages. Maybe your main character realizes she needs to change, then makes some progress? Then give her a new challenge, or something that causes her to slide into her old self, before she really earns her lesson. Don’t let her make the full change or growth until the end (or near the end), so you keep the tension going.
For more in-depth ideas about character development and character arcs, see Now Novel’s post at
Please comment if you have any questions. Take care. See you next month.