It would have been no fun if Harry didn't realise he had a massive temper, or if Elizabeth hadn't been belligerent because lets be quite honest- the girl was rather rude but so was Darcy. When you try and remember your favourite books, you don't remember the plot, you remember the characters, even if they are as problematic as Twilight- Edward and Bella will take a while to exit our collective memories. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I spend so much time on characters, I often fall into a black hole when I plot their arcs but in their arcs lie the plot, because people make the story. It took me a long time to find Shui but Anya came to me so easily. Her voice was as clear as my own while I often lost Shui. My Siddhi, Anahita was the most fun. I saw her as an anti-climax of a person, someone who truly makes you question how you look at women. Are all bumbling women harmless? Are all clumsy women weak? What do powerful women look like? They can look and act like anything. Power comes in all sizes and shapes; they are not just lithe and ethereal the way Tolkien told us they were. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
But that's just how they look, then you have to build out how they act, what they want, where they will end up.
Character IS Story.
So I am going to teach you how to build an arc. But first, you need to build your person/thing/animal, bring them to life. It's the most fun you'll ever have with a pen and paper.
1) The Goal: What does your character want?
What do you want in life? ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Isn't that the question every life coach starts off with? Isn't it the crux of every career counselling session? It's also what guides the writer.
What does your character want?⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Shui wanted to talk to a butterfly. Shui also wanted life to be a little more interesting. She wanted to have a purpose. Having something new to learn gave her that purpose. If she had, for instance, been utterly focused on winning the next basketball championships, she would have probably ignored Anya and not focused too much on this strange girl who plays with butterflies but she really had nothing going on. So when something extraordinary presented itself, she fell for it. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
And so begins her story, with a simple want. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
Find your character's desire and then give them a goal. Think of it as a big picture I want to be rich versus a more specific- I want that specific golden ring. Have fun! ⠀⠀
2) The Obstacle: What is standing in their way?
This is a tough one.
Why can't your protagonist get what they want?
Much like the goal, this can be both abstract or specific. I can't find love because I am closed off to the world vs I can't find love because I keep moving cities every two months and can't complete anything. Sometimes it's both. But defining it brings you to your antagonist who can either be yourself or Thanos, Thanos is easier to write than yourself. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
In Fade Into Red (@penguinrandomhouse), my first book, Ayra was battling both her own fears as well as the evil businessman who was going to throw her to the dogs. But which was the subplot and which was the real arc - I don't know. So when people ask me if it's a romance novel or a mystery novel, I say both. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
So much of writing a book is a mystery in itself I think because you never know where you're going but it helps to have these big questions answered even if they aren't necessarily true.
Any boat in a storm after all!⠀
3) The Tipping Point: Point Of No Return
I call this the ‘I am stuck at the bottom of the ocean and handcuffed to an anchor,’ moment.
If it’s a murder mystery, then the detective is usually scraping the barrel at this point or someone close to him has died or ...you get the basic idea.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
If the plot is a pandemic, the moment would be now. My character, a politician, would be watching his country burn, and would suddenly realise he needs to build an oxygen plant out of thin air. My character, a scientist, would find his cure has not worked, and he needs to go back to the drawing board. My character, a witch, would be cackling that she didn’t have to do a thing to get us here. I could go on... but this is not a novel. It’s real-life ...and my character, however unsexy, is really the common man and woman trying their best to be kind, to be safe, and survive this.
It’s not a bestselling novel, the politician does not redeem himself, the doctors are overworked but don’t get their due, but we do survive this ... we do.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
4) The Change
One day, late evening, my editor, the lovely Arushi, called me and said, 'oh my god - I love this line.' It was - 'This was my coven.' It was the moment when things changed for Shui. When she realised she was ok, that everything that could go wrong after this, would be handled. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
The pandemic has no high point.
There is NO 'just kicked ass' moment. The change is NOT coming.
I have been waiting for the 'just kicked ass' moment, with the rest of the world, but much like with a Tsunami, our 'selves' have been flattened and it really does feel like there's no getting back up. In a book, there would be a breakthrough and we thought the vaccines would be it, but whatever the reason, we just can't reach everyone. Someone's always dying. We're all someone's daughter, we're all someone's son. (guess the song) And the waves keep coming, and there's not a hero in sight.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
But lucky for us, our stories don't have to imitate life so in your story, make sure the change is big. Give the character, and the reader, a moment to live for and say, 'whoopee!'
Redemption is everything and if you want inspiration go listen to this song. For you Gen Z, the song is You're The Voice by John Farnham. It works for every character in every storyline, even one as fucked up like this one.