Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Character Arcs: The Turning Point, of ‘No’ Return

I was debating the other day about the location of the turning point for a character. One that would affect decisions made throughout the book. I wondered if I was making it happen too early.

I had to ask myself, “Self, don’t I have future scenes that prove her to still have a streak of the carefree?” And that is when I had to lapse into thought.

The character in question is an irresponsible, free spirit. Something that was ok in her culture. In fact, it is part of her people’s outlook on life and how one should exist.

But...there are a select few that are endowed with a special ability. One where it is generally accepted, despite the counter-culture concept, that these few will live to a different standard. This particular woman, is fighting that tooth and nail.

Horrible, earth-shattering events ensue, turning her state of mind on its head and I have to wonder: Is this enough to stop her cold turkey? Did the aforementioned events rattle her on such a primal level that it changed her attitude and outlook on life?

Or, is she some smoker that has quit, that keeps reaching for a light? Someone on a diet that keeps having “splurge” days? Is she truly converted? Is she now going to be responsible? Letting go of what is ingrained in her since birth. Because this affects many character choices I make later in the story (in some cases: already made.)

Uh oh, sounds like revision.

In my re-read I found the scene of turning point was happening very early. Perhaps too early. There were actions and decisions she would make later on in contradiction with her newly “improved” self.

*sigh* Time to grit my teeth and get out the proverbial red pen.

But, wait, let’s think about this. Character arcs are about change. It’s great to have a satisfying character arc. We enjoy seeing people turn around. It’s not a requirement in story, but it can be fun and rewarding. Whether it is the irresponsible father, that we grit our teeth, hoping he will finally become involved in his child’s life; or the downtrodden slave that finally rises up against her oppressor. We will even root with morbid fascination to watch the squeaky clean rich boy lose everything precious, broken down with anger and hate, to become a dark avenger of the night. (Ooo, hey, that sounds like a good story.)

But are they stuck to that revised way of thought? Are they unable to slip and have moments where they slide back to where they were?

We’re all human. Of course they can slip, perhaps they even should.

And I’m talking “We” versus fictional “They”, but we are trying to create a sense of humanity, a sense of realism within our fantasy and we want that human aspect to come through. So even though you have created a character with that has changed to become better, or perhaps worse. There is no requirement, that they always adhere to that. In fact, it would probably be false to try and force that on the character.

So, that said, I feel good. That means I don’t need to change some things that happen later. That’s always nice. And more importantly, it will make sense and it will be rewarding AND it will show an element of humanity, which will hopefully make readers connect.

We all make requirements upon ourselves and we ALL fail sometimes. Perhaps MOST of the time. We will berate, reaffirm, try to move forward, but then screw up anyway. So it is ok for your character to slide.

It makes them more human.

Now let me return to the story, I have a goal to stick to and I NEVER, ever slip.


  1. Everyone has lapses, or backslides, or whatever you want to call it. The question is, what are the consequences, to the character or those around her? How do they move the story forward, even when the heroine is in retrograde? If you're writing to the three-act plot arc, the slip (or whatever you'll call it) could bring on the low point of the story.

    The "turning point" is early in the story. That makes it less a turning point than establishing the story line. I glanced up on this page, and saw "Star Wars, especially the mythos" — that's a good example. Luke decides to become a Jedi early on in the first movie (aka Episode IV). That's as big a step as your heroine embracing responsibility, it's a completely new life for them both. Then one of the sub-plots is how Luke (and your heroine) learn the ropes. You can see where I'm going here.

  2. Hi Larry, thanks for commenting. The learning of a padawan/apprentice is fascinating, but I don't expect it to be a large part of this particular story.

    Having the "slip" turn into the low-point of the character arc is a good note. I'm still tweaking some of the finer points and that might be something I'll look into doing. There is a further "slip" later on that I could possibly exploit for greater emotional impact. Must ponder...


Thanks for reading, now tell me what you think.