Tag Archive - character arcs

Strategies for Novelists Who Are Writing a Series

I’m reposting this article from some years back, as many fiction writers plan a series but often don’t know the best way to lay out plot over multiple installments.

Many authors plan to write a series, but I’ve noticed when critiquing and editing novels that are part of a series, they often fail to keep in mind important elements that may not pertain to a stand-alone novel. Navigating through a series can be a kind of obstacle course, keeping focus through the many story developments to reach the finish line.

I’m not talking about a series of stand-alone novels that just feature the same character(s) but in different situations, such as in a mystery series showcasing a particular detective. In novels like those, just as with many TV series episodes, the plot is set up, developed, and resolved all in one book.

However, even in such series, you’ll often see characters grow and change. There may be long-term overarching storylines involving the characters that play out over many books.

There is no hard-and-fast rule regarding how to craft a series, but there are some things a writer should be careful to do.

Each Book Must Have a Plot That Resolves

Just as with a singular work, a first book in a series needs to present the characters and their goals and needs. The basic novel structure applies—a protagonist going after a goal, with him either reaching or failing to reach that goal at the climax.

When writing a book series, it is important to know that each book must have its own plot, one that is concluded by the end of the book. You can’t assume readers have read your first book. And even if they have, it may have been a year ago, and they aren’t going to remember all the details. Odds are they will end up confused and frustrated if you make that assumption. Continue Reading…

When Your Character Is His Own Worst Enemy

Traditionally, there are four general types of opposition at the heart of a story. While our protagonist might face multiple kinds of opposition, the primary one will usually fall into man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. society, or man vs. self (and of course you can replace man with woman, or robot, or alien).

In story structure, there are key scenes in which the opposition rears its/his/her ugly head and “pinches” the protagonist—hence why these are called “pinch points.”

Two specific pinch points occur in traditional story structure, the first one falling between the 25% mark (turning point #2) and the midpoint (turning point #3) and the second one around the 67% mark (before the Dark Night of the Soul moment).

The purpose of the first pinch point is generally to introduce the opposition to the reader. The second pinch point reveals the full force of the opposition. Continue Reading…

The Intersection of Character Transformation and Moral Dilemma

The protagonist’s transformational journey is highlighted in countless stories, whether novels, movies, or plays. If you take time to examine some of your favorite stories, you should be able to identify key scenes or moments in which this transformation gradually takes place. It’s the events that transpire that erode the persona and emphasize to the character that living in that identity isn’t working.

People don’t change overnight; it’s a process. And when we write a story, we want that process to be believable. While there are six stages in the process, you might have a dozen or more scenes in which your character’s beliefs, opinions, and biases are challenged, one bit at a time.

What Theme Really Is

Keep in mind this truth: the theme of your story is your character’s inner motivation made universal. What drives him, what plagues him, what consumes him is what propels him toward the visible goal.

These key transformational scenes with your protagonist are the ones that will shine a light on the themes of your story.

Consider the movie Hostiles, which I explored in another post. The title itself implies the theme and poses the moral dilemma Capt. Blocker faces. Who truly is the hostile?

The question Blocker asks himself, essentially, is this: “How am I all that different from those I hate?” In asking that question, consciously or subconsciously, the theme is brought to the forefront. Continue Reading…

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