Character Arcs Are Not All the Same

Oh how we love character arcs (youtube is full of them). A good protagonist ends up bad, or a bad one turns good. Or, a level-headed character stays that way to meet challenges head-on. News channels love to publish about someone who has ‘fallen from grace’ or done something awful. We all have stories about fallen characters. I am reminded of what the great Apostle Paul said (in Romans 3:23) – “all have sinned, and come short…” In other words, none of us are perfect. We aim to be better (or worse) and our character trends or arcs upwards or downwards, or stays level. An arc is a line that is part of a circle; character arcs are the same and three types are listed below. However, there is another arc you should consider, and it is the arc of electricity makes as it moves from one source to another. A spark arcs as an electrical discharge between two electrodes. We saw that in a spectacular way a few days ago. Our stove caught fire and, when we looked inside, there were sparks arcing at the back of the main oven. In writing, I like to think of this arcing as being between characters. Sparks fly as conflict develops and, as conflict develops, you want to keep reading. Now, back to character arcs:


Here are three basic character arcs (source from tkpublishing):

What is a Positive Character Arc?

A positive change arc is one in which the protagonist undergoes a positive transformation. This usually includes a neat resolution at the end, where, because of their internal change, the character finally achieves their goals. An example of a positive character arc in classic literature is that of Marilla, the woman who adopts Anne in Anne of Green Gables. Marilla starts off uninterested in keeping the little girl, but as the story progresses, we see her developing a subtle but strong affection for Anne.

Negative Character Arcs

But not all stories have a happy ending: a negative change arc is one that still shows how your character develops, but not toward a positive transformation. Instead, this arc illustrates a downward spiral. However, the basic “arc” pattern remains the same, as it is still about how your protagonist starts one way and ends up another. Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is a classic example of a negative character arc. From the beginnings of her adultery, Anna Karenina continues to spiral downward, only to reach a tragic end at the end of the book.

What Is a Flat Character Arc?

Another character arc is the flat arc, wherein the character already has their beliefs in place and uses them to solve problems throughout the story; but even as the story ends, the character remains mostly the same. The development of Miss Maudie, the children’s aunt in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, is an example of a flat character arc. She remains steadfast in her beliefs from her first scene until the end of the book.

[PS: my main character is an ageing spy who has second-thoughts about the value of his career. I will say no more.]

My Greatest Satisfaction

My greatest satisfaction is to think of a story and write it as I want to see it in my mind’s eye.” [Somerset Maugham]

Maugham has an uncanny ability to both shock the reader and put them at ease at the same time—what I call “comfort in conflict.”

It intrigues me that Maugham could visualize his stories, then put that vision onto paper to share with others; something that even well-known authors fail to do. I remember scanning a small library aboard a cruise ship and finally choosing a Dan Brown novel. After a few chapters I was ready to throw it overboard because it was too fanciful. Although I finished the book, I decided to never read Dan Brown again. Yet, I was thankful to Dan Brown for helping me decide to never write a novel that was saturated with conjecture and full of impossibilities. For the record, I am not a fan of Maugham, but admire his concise writing. He never wastes words (see my previous post) and, therefore, gets through “a lot” in a few pages, taking the reader on an adventure. This, for Maugham, was the perfect formula for his short stories. Let me finish with a crisp Maugham quote:

Only a mediocre person is always at his best. ”

Less Words, Less Crap

I’m revising a paragraph and it doesn’t read well. I take out a complex phrase and, voila, the paragraph flows. Fewer words can energize writing and increase the pace; more words slow it down. When editing, I ask myself:

  1. What descriptive text can I remove, yet retain the setting?
  2. Do I need this action or does it detract from the plot?
  3. Is there a better way to convey this character’s mood?
  4. Can I break a long chapter into two shorter ones?
  5. Does the sentence length vary enough?

Any Plans Today?

I love those moments when something simple can be profound, such as this example from Chapter 2, when the antagonist is asked what he has planned for the day…

“Guten morgen, Sir. May I take your briefcase?” the driver asks, snapping to attention.

“Thank you.”

“And, where are we going today?”


“Very good, Sir.”

The black limo glides west onto the B44, then loops back to follow the Theodor-Stern-Kai motorway, parallel to the River Main. As they slow for the Friedensbrücke bridge, the driver glances in his mirror.

“Sir, if I may ask, what have you got planned for the day?”

Michael is silent, his thoughts caught by reflections on the water. Across the bridge, he gazes up at the rising commercial landscape north of the round Westhafen Tower and finally speaks as their destination comes into view.

“I plan to change the world.”

A Big Thank You

A big thank you for taking time to check out my humble blog. A thousand views is a big encouragement to help me keep going to find the right literary agent and, eventually, a publisher. Before you congratulate me, among these 1,000 views are a few dedicated followers, including me. Perhaps this blog has had only 750 unique views? Still, it gives me an opportunity to share my writing journey. Yes, I could give up the search for an agent and self-publish again. However, I feel compelled to partner with an agent to help produce a book with a far greater reach. As my professional editor said, “I have a good feeling about this book.” I hope she’s right.

What makes a good literary agent?

I had to laugh when I made this new post. Why? because, I don’t yet have a literary agent for my new thriller. However, I worked closely with a publishing editor (MacMillan’s) and enjoyed this list—edited from an article by Nathan Bransford (link here).

1. Your literary agent should have a proven track record of sales and/or works at a reputable agency

This is far from the only criteria for determining whether you have a good agent, but it’s a mandatory starting place. A good agent should have either a track record of sales to major publishers or have a good deal of experience cutting their teeth at a reputable agency or both.

2. Your literary agent should be a good communicator

When you have a question, your agent answers. When you ask for something, your agent delivers. When you want to have a serious conversation, the agent is there to have it. A good agent doesn’t dodge, doesn’t hide, is straightforward with you and tells you things you may not always want to hear. If you feel like you are constantly pulling teeth to get the most basic questions answered, you may not have a good agent. The communications lines need to be open between author and agent.

3. Your literary agent should be able to explain every question you have about your contract or your royalty statements

Publishing contract clauses can be confusing, royalty statements borderline indecipherable. Your agent should know exactly what they mean and be able to explain them to you.

4. Your literary agent is completely ethical in how they approach their job

A good agent will act ethically and advise you to act ethically. If you see your agent act unethically it’s only a matter of time until you’re on the receiving end.

Know your rights as an author.

5. Your literary agent should pay you on time and send you contracts in a timely fashion

Most agents have clauses that stipulate that publishers send payments to them, then they take their commission and send you the balance. This is normal. However, that means it’s all the more important that they send your payments and contracts to you on time. Be very wary if you encounter delays.

6. Your literary agent charges you a commission of 15% on domestic contracts, 20% on foreign contracts, and deducts very transparently for reasonable expenses like postage and copying

No agent should charge you up front. They only make money when you make money and only charge you separately for things like foreign postage and manuscript copying.

7. You feel comfortable

This is key and was the determining factor when I worked with Macmillan Publishers. My editor was available, professional, keen and helpful. I trusted her. In the same way, you have to trust your literary agent. You have to have a good feeling about them. At the end of the day, having a bad agent is worse than having no agent. You have to be able to have faith that your agent has your best interests at heart and is good for your career.

An Earthquake This Morning

I was reading a BBC article about a writer’s photography prize when the sharp rattle of an earthquake interrupted my morning cup of tea today. Oh, not a bad earthquake, but unexpected and one that jolted my mind with a practical application to writing thrillers. Every thriller needs ‘earthquakes’—writing that jolts the readers; an unexpected twist or turn. Let the tension build and then … kapok! I have to be careful not to have too many of these in my writing. If I do, the reader will expect them. The earthquake this morning reminded me to identify these sudden plot and character changes and, if possible, amplify them. Now, back to my cup of tea.

The Proof is in the Proofing

When is your manuscript ready for submitting to a literary agent. The truth is, never. But, as I have discovered the hard way, it has to be 99% ready first. This involved some key steps, including:

  • Read your manuscript out loud, or have it read aloud loud to you. Use the text-to-speech function in MSWord (Review–>Read Aloud). When you hear your book read to you, you get a different perspective and flaws show up immediately.
  • Work on your proofreading project early in the morning or when your brain and your eyes are the freshest. I like working through a chapter at a time.
  • When you are happy with the final draft, have a few of your trusted readers review it and give honest feedback. This might include a writers’ circle, book club, etc.
  • Complete a separate, second pass of proofreading of your manuscript once you have done a thorough editing. Use a professional editor to review your book. If this is too expensive, ask them to review your synopsis, first few chapters, and your query letter. Check out this video:

Caution – Tedgerous Editing Ahead

It played on my mind—the need to change a name in my new book. I had chosen Dan as the name of my captain, but realised that a boyhood friend of mine – Ted Cooper – was a much better fit. Ted and I both worked backstage in a high school play; no doubt it was Shakespeare. On the final night we stayed up late and decided to celebrate with a midnight cruise in a small yacht to a volcanic island, just off the mainland. It was a memorable trip across shipping lanes and we felt the freedom of Huckleberry Finn as we ghosted under sail through the night. Unfortunately, our old wooden boat took on water, forcing us to sleep ashore. I will never forget that night, nor my good friend Ted Cooper. We lost contact with each other but I found out that Ted had passed away. He had become a captain in the merchant navy. How appropriate that I should name the captain in my thriller after my good friend.

Editing is simple in Word – use the find and replace all menu and, bingo, the job’s done? No. Here are some of the replacements I discovered:

With double agents, defecting can be Tedgerous = with double agents, defecting can be dangerous

He was petedtic but damned good at his job = He was pedantic but damned good at his job

tedcer = dancer

Guitedce = Guidance

The moral of this post is to be careful when using “replace all” in Word. If you do, going though 100,000 words to find replacement errors can be danious – oops, I mean, tedious.

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