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Monday, December 17, 2018

Creating Mini Character Arcs Within a Scene

Last week I talked about structuring scenes, with a focus on plot. Most scenes should be structured like a mini story:

Rising Action

But another element of story that should be in your scene just as it is in the overall novel is how your character changes, or in other words, the character arc.

In a single scene, the character arc may or may not relate to the overall character arc.

But there (usually) needs to be an arc of some kind. Psychologically, the character needs to be in some kind of motion.

For a scene, think of it as a mini character arc.  How your character starts the scene psychologically and then how he or she ends the scene, psychologically. They should be different.

Let's go back to my examples from last time. I had a scene where a character falls in love. Another where two characters discover who the murderer is via discussion. And finally, I referred to a real scene in a story--Newt going into his suitcase for the first time on screen.

In each of these, you could say the mini character arc is quite simple, since each character ends in a new state or has new information (which relates to the purpose or goal of the scene).

Not in love --> Love
Not knowing the murderer --> Knowing the murderer
Not knowing which animals got loose --> to knowing which got loose

However, not being something is sometimes not enough. It's often not very tangible. As you work with scenes, often the state the character starts the scene comes from a previous scene, after all, in a story, we are dealing over and over again with cause and effect. So in a previous scene, Newt realizes some of his magical beasts got out, therefore, he needs more knowledge in order to catch them--which beasts got out? Between him realizing that, to him actually going in his case to count them, there are a several other scenes, which also contribute to the state he starts in. For one, he has to figure out how to heal Jacob, and that's quite important (especially for the rest of the scene).

I've talked about this on my blog before, but when brainstorming and starting a scene, it's helpful to ask these two questions:

What is being brought to the scene?


How can I take advantage of that?

This can relate to the mini arc. What emotions, attitudes, worldviews, and behaviors is the character bringing to the scene? How will the purpose, goals, and conflicts of the scene affect that? How will they change by the end of the scene?

In my love and murder examples, I'd probably sit down and think about my character and what they bring to the scene. Maybe my heroine thinks the guy she's about to fall for is a showoff. Perhaps he has a reputation she doesn't like. And if I'm going off what I said last time, to make matters worse, it's forbidden to love him.

In my murder example, the protagonist might start the scene already thinking he knows who the murderer is. Or maybe he's at least convinced he's narrowed it down to three people. Maybe his own biases and arrogance have clouded his thinking.

As the scene's plot (or mini plot) progresses, the heroine falls in love. The hero realizes during the course of the discussion that he was wrong. Whatever it is, they end the scene in a different state.

Again, this may or may not relate to the overall character arc.

Let's say that the overall arc in our murder novel deals with the protagonist realizing and overcoming his own biases and arrogance. Then the example I just gave deals directly with that.

Let's say that the love example happens in a story where love isn't actually the main conflict or focus. Instead, the story is mainly about a young girl following her dreams to be an actress, and her overall character arc is about moving from being insecure and looking to everyone else for validation to being secure and finding validation within.

Whatever the case, the mini arc relates to the main character of that scene.

But there are also characters that may arc.

For example, in the scene of Newt taking Jacob into his suitcase, Jacob has his own mini arc. How he starts the scene is different from how he ends it. He moves from ignorance to knowledge.

In some scenes, all the characters may arc. In others, only the "main character" of the scene may arc.

In rare cases, maybe not even that. In a few specific scenes, the point is to show that a character doesn't change. In my murder example, perhaps the character is still convinced, even after the discussion, that he is right--he is still so blinded by his own biases and arrogance (even if the audience may not be). Some characters, particularly those with extreme characteristics, may refuse to change.

https://twitter.com/i/moments/853063281061187584For example, in the musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton is a hard worker to a fault--he's a workaholic. In the number (aptly named) "Non-Stop," Burr, Eliza, George Washington, and even nameless characters, speak to or touch on the idea of him needing to slow down--but he never does. The point of the song is to illustrate how he never slows down. And ultimately the only way to get him to change is to have him wreck havoc upon himself.

However, it should be noted that even though Hamilton doesn't change internally in that song, he still changes as a character externally, climbing career ladder after career ladder. So even if your character doesn't change internally in a scene, they almost always need to change externally at least.

 As I said at the beginning of this article, they almost always need to be in some kind of motion. To what extent and in what way, may be dictated by the point of the scene, or if not, it may be something you need to come up with if only for within that scene.

As with all the other points of a scene I've made so far, remember that you are working on a small scale. It's completely possible for a mini character arc to take up only a few sentences in some scenes.

So dear writers, how do you like to approach character motion in a scene? Let us know in the comments. ^_^

In the future I'll be talking more about how the character's state and the mini plot of a scene work together, defining more points of each.

Also, don't forget that you have until the 19th (Wednesday) to enter our advent calendar for writers! All of the gifts have been revealed, and you can still enter for the chance to win each one, including mine.


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