ROUND ROBIN – July Character Arcs

The topic:

How important is Character Arc to your stories and how does it tie into the plot or story arc? Do you usually give some time and story to character arcs for secondary characters?

Character arc could be called the character’s journey but sounds more academic and businesslike at the same time. The short answer to question one in my writing is very and, yes, it ties into the story. Short answer to the second question is also yes – for some of them.

I have occasionally written drama and fiction based on people who actually lived. Thinking about our topic for this month is helping me understand why I have always found it more difficult to use real people than ones I wholly made up. When the end of the story, or plot, is known, there’s no room for character development. The historical character’s real lifetime journey, or arc, is also already known. What’s left to the writer is explanation, I suppose, in fictional or dramatic form.

JM Barrie was the subject of a play I wrote called JMB & M’Connachie. Besides the issue of dealing with a man who lived a long and full life of huge distinction and public recognition, was that inability to do anything with his character arc. How frustrating and how ironic when writing about a dramatist.

At the distance of nearly a century, it’s possible to see how JMB got some things hopelessly wrong. Had he been a figment of my imagination, as M’Connachie was of his, I would have had an easier life. M’Connachie, being a fiction, was easier to write.

Sophia Jex-Blake, the wonderful pioneering woman doctor of the late nineteenth century, was one of the central characters in my DCThomson serial, A Class of Their Own. She was a little easier to deal with in that the aspects of her character which made for good fiction were already well known. She was brilliant, persistent and very difficult.

Some of the other characters in the serial were fictionalised from other real people, too, but those people were less well known. Consequently Jane and Megs Begbie had their own character arcs which supported and illuminated Sophia’s.

Starting from that ghost who wakens you in the night, a story and a character or a character and a story begin to form, to gel, to come alive. I am a character inspired writer. Plot in my work arises from the character created. Find a diamond necklace in the gutter? My normal type of character will wish to return it. Their arc will involve the pressures applied by the people who don’t want it returned – or at least not to the rightful owner. Another type of fiction might have a character who wishes to keep it and their arc would involve the people trying to prevent that and restore it.

Time given to understanding the story’s secondary characters is never wasted. Stereotyped secondary characters can destroy a story. Over-written secondary characters can drown the central character so there is a delicate balance to be struck. I think writers often find that a secondary character shines brightly enough to earn a follow-on tale of their own. That was certainly the case with Daisy in Mariah’s Marriage and Daisy’s Dilemma was born.

Writing the second book was not a walk in the park, however. In fact, I found it difficult to bring the secondary characters into the sun and allow those who had been earlier principals to fade back. I am fond of many of the Jane Austen sequels written about Mary Bennet or Lydia or Mr Wickham. Perhaps I will have a go at writing the aristocrats’ romance from my Pocket Novel, A Maid and a Man. Hmn!

In other news, I’ve sold two stories in June. Yay! I’ve also signed up for a knitting challenge – Oh Dear! It is raising money for a good cause, though – CHAS (Children’s Hospice Association Scotland ). As I don’t ‘do’ running, climbing, swimmming, ice buckets, this is my first fundraising effort. (Yes, I know, I sell allsorts from books and tickets to the idea folk might buy a Christmas Gift.) We’ll see how it goes. I’ve bought the wool.

Back to character arcs and below there’s a list of members of the flock who’ve also signed up. I’m sure you’ll find pearls of wisdom among their offerings.


Connie Vines

Diane Bator

Helena Fairfax

Marci Baun

Victoria Chatham

A.J. Maguire

Skye Taylor