Saturday, September 23, 2017

Mountains and Mirrors



I’m not the hiking type. I know some people who always seem to be either half up a mountain or planning their next hike, but that is not me at all. Having my feet firmly planted on the ground is fine, thank you very much. Bugs, long hours uphill, the chance of falling or injuring yourself so far from civilization...Not my thing. Thankfully, today I won’t be sharing about the joys of hiking.


Today we’re going to be talking about mountains, and mirrors.


I know what you’re thinking; Melissa, where on earth are you going with this? What do hunks of soil and rocks have to do with reflective surfaces?


My friend, I have two words to answer your question: character arcs.


First off, what is a character arc? According to my lovely friends Professor Google and Wikipedia, the definition is:


A character arc is the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of a story. If a story has a character arc, the character begins as one sort of person and gradually transforms into a different sort of person in response to changing developments in the story.


In some stories, a character may not change at all (making them a static character) but we’re not going to worry about them right now. The majority of characters in fiction experience a change, whether for better, or for worse. But growing, or falling, does not come easily. For the sake of my upcoming metaphor, let’s say that you want your main character to grow. To learn a lesson.


Welcome to your story’s mountain.


So how do you create a character arc? To put it simply, you need three parts of a mountain: the rise, the cliff, and the peak.


1) The rise

It’s common sense to know that to come down, you must first go up. There needs to be a problem or goal for your character throughout the story, and that is the base of the mountain; the rocks and dirt.


Change should not be an easy process. Your character should not just wake up one day in your story with a completely different attitude to life and themselves. It doesn’t happen in real life, so it shouldn’t happen in your story. There has to be steps in your character’s journey. There has to be trials and tribulations. Their feet need to slip on loose soil as they cling to the side of the mountain, rocks tumbling down beside them, prayers whispering on their breath.


The rise could be anything, from other characters pointing out their negative actions, to the character being exposed to the consequences of their decisions, to viewing a horrific act done by the antagonist. It should be something that forces them to begin to change or makes them want to change. This change can be anything, from their attitude, to their perception of society or a person, to their beliefs.


That brings us to the cliff.


2) The cliff

As much as the small trials are crucial for slowly developing the character's change, there has to be a moment when the character faces a decision with massive consequences. I refer to this as the “cliff moment”. In my (singular and seven hour long) hiking experience, there was a point where the path became a foot wide. On either side, there was not one, no, but two cliffs. And to top it all off, a mammoth tree fell, right in the middle of the path.


Don’t worry, I’m still alive.


But in that moment, when the path began to crumble under my feet and I had no choice but to fall down the side of the mountain (and most likely die; I’m not joking), or climb over the tree, I was nevertheless faced with a choice. I could continue on, or I could fall.


In your story, the character must be faced with a choice whether or not to continue with their arc. While the rise might push them towards change, the decision to change must be theirs. No one else’s. Only when they truly decide to keep going despite the greatest threat possible, can they completely change.


3) The peak (and mirrors?)

Now that the character has totally decided to change, they need to actually change. At some point they need to finally finish grappling with trees and rocks and get to the highest point. Not only do they need to change, (this is reaching the peak), something else needs to happen too.


They need to pull out their cosmetic mirror from their bag, and check that their lipstick is still on.


I’m kidding. (Maybe)

There is no need in your story for a scene where your character literally stares into the mirror and narrates how their appearance has changed. Yet somewhere near the end, one of two things needs to happen. One: in a situation that mirrors a similar situation to one in the beginning of the story, the character needs makes an opposite choice to what they would have decided in the beginning.

Or two: they or another character acknowledges the change. I’m not saying they should announce “Oh wow, I’m such a better person now!” I mean the way they think, they act, they treat others must show this change. Did they kill without hesitation in the beginning? Show them now hesitating, and doing everything in their power to avoid murder. Did they feel afraid? Show them being brave and stepping outside of their comfort zone.


Character arcs are tricky things, and of course, my suggestions will not apply to every single story ever out there. I simply hope that if you’re struggling with characters arcs and what they entail, I’ve given you a basic, stripped down guide to them, using the help of mountains, and mirrors.



Are you a big fan or a big hater of hiking? Do you struggle with character arcs? Has this changed *wink wink* they way you view them? How is your writing going?



~~ Melissa Gravitis ~~

26 comments:

  1. Hiking is for wimps...how about trail running? But this is a lovely post! I was literally just going to check this post before going out to run up and then back down the mountain I live ten minutes away from...a mere six miles of uphill climbs and rocks.

    But now I shall be considering my MC and her arc during the run - thanks guys! Just what I needed!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, that was great timing, wasn't it? XD Haha I can't exactly say hiking or trail running is my favourite thing, but it's awesome you do it! Go Julian!!!

      Happy to be of help! Thanks for commenting! :)

      Delete
  2. I've never gone on a real hike, so I don't know. But I am a fitness person, so I'd probably like it if it were in the fall when all the bugs have left the area and the leaves have fallen to crunch under my feet.

    This was an awesome post, Melissa. I love what you wrote and its inspired me. Thank you for that!

    ~Ivie
    iviewrites.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure you would love it then! It's almost fall for you, yes? So you can enjoy one soon. :)

      Awww thanks Ivie! I'm glad you liked it. <3 Thank you for commenting!

      Delete
  3. I love this metaphor! We have a bunch of metaphors helping with story and character arcs in my English, but this tops them all. Great job! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you Gray! That's such a lovely thing to say. *blushes* Thanks for commenting!

      Delete
  4. This is very well done Melissa :)The mountain metaphor is so simple to understand yet powerful and you really explained the process clearly. Incredible! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awww thanks Anna! I'm super happy it made sense; sometimes things make sense in my mind but don't translate to the written word. XD Thank you for commenting!

      Delete
  5. Wonderful post, Melissa! I wondered from the start what the meaning was behind "Mountains and Mirrors." Now it all makes sense!
    This is just great. I'll be keeping this metaphor in mind, to be sure. XD

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Lila! I'm glad it all made sense by the end, and that it was helpful. :D Thank you for commenting!

      Delete
  6. NO HIKING. I live in the middle of mountains and I still don't like hiking.
    And that's definitely a great look at character arcs!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha I'm not a hiking person either! *high fives*
      Thank you so much! :)

      Delete
  7. Very well written and great metaphor. Will thinks about it next time I hike...although I'm pretty cliff adverse. Will also pass along to my writing students. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Carol! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Haha please stay away from cliffs! They're dangerous... ;) Thank you for commenting!

      Delete
  8. I LOVE hiking! I love the outdoors SO MUCH.

    For someone just learning about character arcs and how they work, this post was extrememly helpful.

    Thank you Melissa!

    Catherine
    catherinesrebellingmuse.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I wish I loved it as much as you did! That's awesome that you're a hiker. :)

      Yay, I'm so glad this was helpful to you! Thanks for commenting Catherine!

      Delete
  9. YESSS HIKING IS THE BEST. I totally related with both the reality of this and the metaphor! xD

    I loved how you showed character arcs here! Very creative <3

    audrey

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're lucky you love it, haha! I wish I did when I went on that very dangerous and long hike. xD

      I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for commenting Audrey! <3

      Delete
  10. I really enjoy hiking and since I live in a VERY mountainy (I know that's not a word ;) state, I get the chance to pretty much go on long mountain walks whenever I want. A creative way you through in the character development there!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! :) I wish I enjoyed hiking, but sadly it's not for me. It's lovely that you enjoy it and can do it often though! Thank you for commenting Kara!

      Delete
  11. I love your post! Your blog is completly amazing!!! No joke!
    TeenWriter @WeAreTeenArtists
    www.weareteenartists.wordpress.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I'm very glad you enjoyed the post, and on behalf on the RW team, we're happy you like the blog. :) Thanks for commenting!

      Delete