My WIP’s Fourth Revision
Reshaping Character Arcs (1)
I put in a lot of work on my character arcs. And they came out pretty much the way I wanted them to. But Beta Readers insisted I make changes.
They thought I could merge one of my important character into another. My character, a woman, became, effectively, the nanny for my MC’s son. She didn’t get a lot of face time and existed, in part, to sacrifice herself to save the MC. Readers pointed out that my MC, a Native, would be more likely to trust another character, my MC’s sister, with her son. And…they are right.
My villain / love interest came off as too old and rigid. Readers couldn’t see why she is so attracted to him. As one said, if he is going to make her act all stupid he needs to exude more animal magnetism than I wrote him with. My readers are, once again, right.
They liked my MC, except she got too whiny when her world fell apart. She is a Native woman thrust into a European Colony. I intended that she become weaker and more uncertain as crisis followed crisis. But my readers disagreed. They thought she became more European instead of more Native. I hate to admit it but they are right.
What was I trying to do with my character arcs?
I tried to create three-dimension characters for about a dozen characters. My MC is the most developed, the three other POVs are almost as well-developed, and the remaining eight are less complex but still have their own stories to tell. I wanted to understand them well enough that I could have written my story with any of them as the MC, and have it come out interesting and entertaining.
When I began creating my characters, I started with Myers Briggs Types. For instance, my MC is an ENFP who adores the spotlight and intends to change the world. To help translate her to the page, I used Ackerman’s Positive Character Traits Thesaurus and Negative Character Traits Thesaurus. I cannot recommend these books highly enough. They made it so easy to fill out four layers – Socially Aware Moral Core, Honorable Achievement Layer, Confident Interactive Layer, and Charming Identity Shell. I also tossed in Pride and Superstition as flaws.
I went down into each of those six characteristics and picked three strengths and two weakness that I wanted to emphasize through my story. At this point I needed an Excel spreadsheet.
Here is a snippet of the whole thing. This shows columns for nine of her sixty scenes. I started with her inner workings, with green being good and pink being not so good.
I kept her the same for all of Part One, letting readers get used to her. Then, from Plot Point One all the way to All Is Lost, I turned more and more of those green square pink. From her Epiphany to the Climax I began turning those pink squares back to green.
I followed several rules. First, I tied personality changes to story events. I didn’t make very many changes at once. And I focused on only a couple of them in each scene.
For instance, when she learned her husband has been assassinated, I wove in the first stage of mourning, denial, and flipped several boxes from green to pink. As part of her shock, she didn’t want to be the center of attention and felt too clumsy and awkward to put people at ease or make them feel special. That wasn’t hard to write in.
As the story went further along, more and more of her boxes turned pink.
And then, after her Epiphany, she starts to heal herself. But she doesn’t come out of that realization a completely changed person.
So, once again, I tied changes to events, and held back a couple of serious issues until the story Climax. The biggest was whether she would cross her own moral boundaries to achieve what she wanted. Until the key moment in the Climax scene she doesn’t know how she will act when forced to make a choice. And, of course, she comes face to face with it.
What did I do?
Let’s go back to my villain / love interest, since I’ve rewritten him. I wanted to make him younger and more sexually attractive to my Main Character.
So, with the stroke of a pen, he goes from 38 to her twenty, to 28 to her twenty. That’s still a fair gap, but it’s no longer like she’s marrying another generation. Once I made the age change, my villain / love interest’s background changed. Now, instead of being only a year or so younger than his brother, he is much younger, with all those attendant feelings of hero-worship mixed in with competition to outdo his brother. And, all those military exploits come much quicker, marking him as a shooting star as far as Generals go.
My next problem was to make sure the sex appeal was there. But, without having him strut around bare-chested, offering her chocolate, and quoting poetry as he cooked for her and did the dishes, what else could I do?
I decided to downplay the sexual appeal and go for something a little more subtle. Unlike many Europeans of his time he bathes regularly and takes care about his personal appearance. He is funny when he wants to be, he understands her moods and needs and can always say the right words, he always wins at whatever he puts his mind to without rubbing it in people’s faces, he’s intelligent and talented enough that he could have been anything he chose to be, and he exhibits quiet confidence. She also knows that women he has shared blankets with would return in a heartbeat.
So, did I dump all this into Scene Three? Nope. I sprinkled this stuff in over about a dozen scenes where she interacts with him. And she notices all these things, and responds to them. And he responds to her. And, even though he murdered her husband, kidnapped her son, and started a Civil War to have her, she feels that strong attraction to him, all the way into the Climax scene.
This did change a couple of scenes more than a little. But, for the most part, these changes were on the small side. But I felt like I was touching up the Mona Lisa. Ha.
I’m working on my Main Character. I will write more about her next time.