poetry and prose about place

a muse takes over – character arcs

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Every character in a novel needs a background and a story arc of their own, in order to make them interesting and realistic. This creates challenges as I proceed through the drafts of the five books of my sci-fi series ‘Meniscus’.


In Book One (Crossing the Churn), I have only two main characters, Odymn and the Slain.

In Book Two (South from Sintha), they rescue three new characters from servitude under the Dock-winder aliens and a simple community begins to take shape.

In Book Three (Winter by the Water-climb), a transport crash brings six more humans to the settlement.

By Book Four (The Town at Themble Hill), the settlers  are actively seeking new recruits to the community and there are sixteen characters for the writer (me) to manage.

At the end of Book Five, even I don’t know how many characters will survive/be added!


Character arcs assist with the forward motion of the entire story. Each character’s story arc contributes to the whole and is usually connected in some way to the main story arc.


I express my character story arcs in a three-part sentence — what the character wants, the obstacles he or she encounters, and the resolution.



For example, one of the new recruits in Book Four (The Town at Themble Hill) is Edward, a medical doctor. Although the settlers can get the help of an alien elder, a doctor who has actually treated human illness will be a great asset to the community. When he enters the story, he has been a Dock-winder slave, used to treat the ailments of other human slaves.


In the Dock-winder city of Prell, Edward has been able to work with complex technologies. But in the new human settlement, deep in the Themble Woods, even simple tools like stethoscopes or standard pharmaceuticals don’t exist. Edward has to reinvent his approach to medicine, developing his own methods with available tools and embracing alien natural medicines and techniques he previously belittled.


So, Edward’s story arc is expressed as follows:

Edward wants to help his patients but when technology is no longer available, he has to learn to embrace alien methods and natural herbal medicines.


This sentence, once written, can help determine the mood of the character, his attitude towards other characters, his response in various situations and the risks he is willing to take.  Now I can revise my draft to make it consistent with Edward’s story arc.


There are often three ‘bumps’ to move the character’s story arc along. Edward’s three ‘bumps’ are consistent with his story arc:

  • Edward is skeptical of the Argenop methods (the Argenops are primitive aliens, cute and furry)
  • He encounters a medical challenge that, with technology, could be easily resolved
  • He tries an alien, herbal treatment and learns to trust new methods


Back to work!



Copyright 2017 Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

February 9, 2017 at 8:32 pm

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