poetry and prose about place

writing a novel – character arcs

with 6 comments

Title: unknown

Working Title: ‘Crossing at a Walk’

Setting: a writers’ retreat – the renovated Landing Church, the hall and the rectory now used as a Learning Center, a Sleeping Hall and a home/base of operations for Sadie and Tom

Characters: main character Sadie, a writer; her husband Tom, a retired welder; people from the community; writers participating in the first weekend of the writers’ retreat

Plot: Sadie wants the first writers’ retreat to go smoothly, but the history of an old covered bridge keeps getting in the way


I have finished the first draft of my novel.  Still lots of holes to fill and editing to do.  But I am now certain of the basic story-line.


For the next while I will be spending some time with each of my characters.  I know a bit about them, because I have a character sketch and a drawing for each character.  Now I want to make sure each person has their own story arc.   I would like each character to grow in some way during the novel.



some of the characters in my novel


My first step is to print a copy of the draft ‘Table of Contents’ for my book.

On a separate page, I also list the events (or scenes) in each chapter and the characters involved in each event.

Then I use the initial of the character’s first name to show on the ‘Table of Contents’ where the character occurs in the story.  For example, my characters include Patricia and her brother Rob … marked P/R on the extreme right hand side of the ‘Table of Contents’.

Right away, I can see if a character falls off the radar.  I can also make certain the characters are distributed through the action so my reader doesn’t forget they exist.  For example, one of my main characters, Alexandra (marked A) doesn’t occur in four chapters … this may be OK but I want to think it through.




Once I have completed this step, I have a list of additions to make to the manuscript (written up and down along the bottom of the page).


I also write, in a simple sentence, the story arc of each character.  I write the arc in the format of: what the character wants, the obstacles he or she encounters, and the resolution.

Patricia (the rather sour-looking woman on the far left of my drawing above) wants to feel connected with her brother who left home and died years before – she reconnects with him by learning some of the details of his story.

Tom (below) retired from his career as a welder due to ill health.  He is surrounded by writers attending the writer’s retreat.  He is at loose ends and tries to find his purpose, discovering it embedded in his daily routine.

Matt (third from the left in the drawing above) is a theatre student who wants to attract a fellow writer.  In spite of repeated rebuffs, they find a common interest, the basis of a friendship.



Tom, Sadie’s husband, doesn’t always feel comfortable around writers.



I have learned from various courses that story arcs are often expressed as sub-plots.  The story arcs often occur in three ‘bumps’ in the action.  Although most of my characters occur several times in the book, this is a good minimum guide to follow for the significant events in their stories.


Back to work …


Copyright  2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

March 25, 2015 at 7:07 am

6 Responses

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  1. Okay, what gives? Under your title of ‘Character Arcs’, you have Tom, a welder. Really? arc – welder? Tell me, Jane, will he be fusing the plot together, or is he merely a character in flux? Why not change his name to Rod? His address could be 123 Elect Road. And while you’re at it, make him a marksman – he’d be good at drawing a bead.
    Hope these suggestions prove helpful; your success, my only desire.

    Liked by 1 person


    March 27, 2015 at 8:08 am

    • Hi Neil. Glad my character is so riveting. I just think a character with a helmet fits the modern rhetoric. Wish I had your way with words!!! Jane 🙂


      jane tims

      March 27, 2015 at 9:06 am

  2. I find it absolutely fascinating how you approach developing the plot line and the characters. I’ve never written fiction–and am learning so much about the process from your posts.

    Liked by 1 person


    March 25, 2015 at 9:26 pm

    • I like the idea of ‘creative non-fiction’, where you fictionalize part of the story of a real person. Perhaps you’ll try that sometime – you have the research! Jane


      jane tims

      March 25, 2015 at 10:40 pm

  3. I notice the sour gal when I first looked at the pictures. I thought: She sure looks sour. Then laughed when I read you described her as such too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person


    March 25, 2015 at 7:30 am

    • Hi. I love drawing faces because it is a great way to ‘see’ personality. Jane


      jane tims

      March 25, 2015 at 8:05 am

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