Writing Club: Character Arc and Motivation

What, more character work? We’ve created our characters, now it’s time to figure out where they’re going.

But first…

Bannor_Toys_Wooden_Toy_Car_Set_original5-minute prompt:  CAR

(5-minute, stream-of-consciousness exercise, write whatever pops into your brain on the topic. Don’t bother with sentences, paragraphs, or punctuation. Just write.)

Think of all the kinds of motor vehicles, makes and models of cars you know. There are an awful lot of specific terms for all the different parts of a car, and how each can break down as well! (My 20-year-old auto is always teaching me this lesson.)

How about all the sounds a car can make?

Cars can also be a tool to revealing character: what assumptions do you make about people based on what they drive?What kind of vehicle would a vain person drive? an ambitious person? a nature-lover? a kindergarten teacher? a partying teenager? a nervous person? a thrill-seeker?

Character Arc

We’ve spent some time in previous posts working on creating complex characters and introducing our characters, so now we have to think about where our characters are going.

As our story progresses our main character is going to be challenged and experience all kinds of tribulations and triumphs – both externally and internally. In nearly all cases, the main character of a story is going to change in some way… because of the events of the plot she will change her point of view, or her attitude, her goals, or her feelings about life. She is going to learn something. Always take some time to think about what will change in your main character.

An example: in the movie The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy at the beginning feels like nobody understands her or cares about her problems. She dreams of going “somewhere beyond the rainbow” to where there is no trouble. At the end of the movie Dorothy realizes how much her family loves her and how good she has it at home. She also sees that you can run into troubles wherever you go. And “there’s no place like home!” A lot of lessons there. Dorothy at the end is more content, happier, grateful.

That is what is known as a character arc.


A character arc is something you can diagram and analyze the heck out of, but all it really means is that your character changes in some way.

And it doesn’t always have to be in a good way. Maybe he has such a bad experience that he becomes disillusioned, depressed, angry, vengeful. (Which would be a great setup for a sequel!)

While it is very important for your main character/protagonist to undergo some kind of change, it’s not as important for lesser characters to change. In particular, the antagonists often don’t change at all.

images-1Character Motivation

Another extremely important factor to work out for your characters is their MOTIVATION: What do they want?

Motivation can be big (“I want to save the world from the forces of evil!”) or small (“I want to pass Algebra!”). Or even smaller than that; a character can have a specific motivation for a single chapter or scene. (“I want my sister to leave me alone.” or “I’m tired – I want to go to bed!”)

103973111When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away—even if it’s only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time.   – KURT VONNEGUT


New Words

Here are the words we shared recently in our meetings. Some terrific character words here…

insouciant (in-SOO-see-uhnt) – happily unconcerned, carefree, nonchalant; showing a casual lack of concern

440px-Narcissus-Caravaggio_(1594-96)_editednarcissistic (nar-si-SIS-tick) – having an excessive interest in and admiration for one’s self; vain

This word comes from the Greek legend of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own image reflected in a pool of water.

mercurial – subject to sudden or unpredictable changes of mood or mind; changeable, unpredictable, fickle, inconstant, unstable, moody

willowy – tall, slim and graceful – like a willow tree

adrenaline – a hormone secreted by the body in times of extreme stress ie. when a person is in danger; this hormone gives a person an extra boost of speed and strength to enable them to escape that danger

equivalent – equal, identical, same

pulverize – reduce to fine particles; pound, grind

confectionary – a candy store

And finally, your moment of…

Grammar Zen

who’s = who is

whose = possessive

Once again, the apostrophe tells you this is a contraction of two words! If you’ve written the word who’s and you’re not sure if it’s the right one to use, just check: if you substitute who is in its place, does the sentence still make sense?


Who’s going to the concert?

Whose hat is this?

Who’s going to tell me whose hat this is?

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