Character development vs character arc

Wow. What a task. I spent several hours trying to understand what a character arc was. My eyes are completely worn out and my brain ended up slushier than the swamps of WiTland. But it paid off.

The amount of information available in today’s world is overwhelming, and searching for specific topics in an efficient and fast fashion is definitely an art that continues to elude me. I’ve reviewed a squillion of forms and spreadsheets along with all sorts of information about every possible angle regarding character arc and development. My resulting impression is that when we, writers, decide to create some sort of form, we add EVERYTHING to it; heck, we throw in every possible sink from every world we can imagine.

One of the first things I noticed is that the concepts of character development and character arc are usually mushed in together. Then, it seems most character related worksheets have waaaaay too much information. Lastly, definitions vary widely regarding what is what when it comes to characterization.

Did I manage to learn something? I think I did… This is what I got out of my digging:

  • Character arc is the change/growth the character experiences from the beginning to the end of the novel.
  • Character development is the way we define the character, from name and physical attributes to magical capabilities.

We look and meet the character developed, but we follow the character’s arc. I’m convinced that no es bueno to throw the character’s arc in the development bag, because it can get pretty muddy if we try to follow the arc between all sorts of details about the character – at least that’s how it feels to me.

Character development

Most of the worksheets and forms I found fall under this category. There are lists and spreadsheets with heaps of fields to fill in every single detail about our characters. Some include profile questions, such as:

“If your character could meet one historical figure, who would it be? (Also: If they’re from a fictional world, what heroes from their culture’s past would they want to meet?)”

Yep, I copied that one from one of the characterization forms. I can imagine the character rolling his eyes as we ask him that question… All I’m saying is: TMI, OK? I would l lose interest in the character if I start asking him for too much information. So what was my take on character development? Simple is better. You can always add fields later (if you must).

Having said that, one source (The Bardo Bard) recommends taking a Myers Briggs Test as if we are the character to figure out the character’s personality type. I can see the value doing that for the protagonist… mostly since we can use that information later to unfold the character’s arc.  You can click here to take on those tests on line.

And I did find a pretty good, simple template for character development here.

Character arc

This is where the materials available drove me around in circles for hours. It seems most of the information about character arc is mixed in with character development, and I was truly getting confused trying to separate both concepts within the overwhelming amount of information available. Fortunately, I found this web page (Veronica Sicoe) describing three possible character arcs in an amazing and insightful way that made sense to me. Three types of arcs? Who would have thought! Yet it’s easy to see the need to understand each one.

Here is a link to a worksheet for character arc. I’m currently tweaking and combining both forms to adapt them to my needs, but without adding much more. Simple is definitely better.

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