WT4: How to Build Strong Character Arcs within A Theme

Great novels involve character development. Have you ever read a book that goes on and on and a character goes through kind of mundane actions and never really learns anything or changes?

Character development is important. Before you even start writing, it’s helpful to list your main characters and decide which characters will change throughout the novel and how.

For example, in Becoming American, I knew I wanted a young Allu to be innocent and hopeful and as more events press upon her family and dramatically alter her life, I wanted her to move from naivety to someone who understands that sometimes major opinions in the world aren’t justified. Not all adults can be trusted or are kind. But I wanted her to understand these things without losing her own kindness and positivity.

I wanted Robbie to be carefree, patriotic and a ladies man. Despite all of the setbacks and rejection from the government and Army, I wanted him to remain patriotic, but become more responsible for his family.

But not all of your characters have to change. Some of them can remain constant, and it’s you as a reader who is changed. Mama has a quiet strength that’s constant throughout all of their changes, even if she does have some emotional breaking points.

The character arcs can reflect your theme of the book. Hope, despite having everything taken from you. Patriotism, despite having the government reject you and question your loyalty. The importance of family and friendship in maintaining your heritage and pride.

I hope this helps. Sometimes when I get writer’s block, it helps me to go back to my characters and how I want them to arc and then I ask myself, what kind of event could I throw in the story to showcase this part of the character? How would he/she respond? What are some dramatic things that could influence how he/she views the world?

My favorite and most heart-breaking characters are usually the ones in books and movies that I started off hating. They’re selfish and mean etc. but then throughout the story, they change. It seems like usually, right when you fall in love with these ones and they start to do the right things, they die and leave you feeling well, heartbroken. It’s a lot easier to accept bad characters who do awful things, when they die, but that wouldn’t be very dramatic, would it?

I hope this helps. Think of great books and some of the new Marvel movies that have come out and use their examples of how important backstory and character arcs are. And remember, not all of your characters have to change; just enough of them to make a difference.