5 Steps for Completing Character Arcs

I’ve become one of those people. The ones you see when you’re driving down the road who are walking with determined strides and annoying smiles on their faces, reminding you that your exercise regimen could use some attention. The very people who used to instill guilt each time I saw one of them briskly covering ground while I sat on my backside.

On 11/1/11 I received my osteoporosis diagnosis. The next day I implemented my plan to regain bone health through regular exercise.

I’m happy to report that I’ve exercised at least 30 minutes a day for two weeks running. Not only that, but I’m actually having fun. I was seen walking along the trail yesterday wearing a grin, and I bounded into Curves for my circuit training the day before.

I’m proof it’s possible for a person to undergo significant change. Before the diagnosis I durn near despised exercise, but look at me now.

As I walked, I got to thinking about my main characters. Like me, they can be resistant to change. My job is to force them out of their comfort zones, help them face their fears, and take them to new places in life where they are ultimately stronger and happier.

To help my main characters complete their character arcs, I send each of them on a journey involving five steps.

1. An interruption in life as they know it. This is what some call the “inciting incident.” Something happens that forces a character to deal with a situation, shaking things up.

2. The realization that they can cling to the status quo and remain in their comfort zones or plot new courses and gain the promise of achieving something more valuable.

3. They reach a point where they realize their ways of approaching life is no longer working and they have no choice but to adopt new ways of dealing with the situation.

4. A futile attempt when things look the worst of going back to old ways of coping, only to discover that those methods no longer work because their situations and, more important, they have changed dramatically.

5. Ultimate acceptance of a new way of dealing with the world around them, resulting in the completion of their character arcs. They are different people with new traits and deeper levels of maturity, which have shaped them into stronger people as a result of the hardships they’ve endured and challenges they’ve overcome.

I raced through the first three steps in this process. Upon receiving the diagnosis, I quickly accepted the need to change, the short-term goal being improving my bone health and the long-term goal being avoidance of a life-threatening hip fracture later in life.

I’ve had two weeks of success, but I’ve lived long enough to know my determination will be tested. I’ll wake up one morning and find it’s raining when I’m scheduled to take a walk. The temptation will be there to skip a day of exercise.

What I’m counting on is that I will reach a place when I feel the desire to workout or walk even on days when it would be easier not to. At that point I’ll know my character arc is complete because I’ve undergone lasting change.

 • • •

What steps do you put your characters through as their character arcs are completed?

How do you deal with the need to make significant changes in your own life?


About Keli Gwyn

I'm an award-winning author of inspirational historical romance smitten with the Victorian Era. I'm currently writing for Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical line of wholesome, faith-filled romances. My debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California, was released July 1, 2012. I'm represented by Rachelle Gardner of Book & Such Literary. I live in a Gold Rush-era town at the foot of the majestic Sierras. My favorite places to visit are my fictional worlds, other Gold Country towns and historical museums. When I'm not writing I enjoy taking walks, working out at Curves™ and reading.
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16 Responses to 5 Steps for Completing Character Arcs

  1. Good for you with working out! I am trying to do it every day as well as my mom has that illness and I am prone as well–don’t want to be tested cause I am afraid I am already there lol.

  2. Jodi Janz says:

    This is a timely post for me. I too have made a big change in my life that I have never been successful at achieving before. I am doing Nanowrimo this month and I decided God wanted more from me than a book so I get up really early (for me) every weekday to write, but before I write I must spend some time with Him. Before I never had a regular and consistent time to do this, so sometimes it would get bumped off the agenda on a busy day. Now it happens before I even get to type a single word.
    I too will be tested. And I too hope that a desire/fire in me has been created to override the urge to ditch and continue on.
    I was encouraged the other morning when I awoke with a terrible headache. I got up and went to my morning place anyway. i took out my bible and did my time with God. Then I curled up with a blanket and went back to sleep until my kids needed to get up for school. I skipped my writing instead of skipping my devotions. It encouraged me deeply!

    Stick with it Keli! I wish i could cheer you on during those rainy and unappealing days!

  3. I love your attitude Keli! And I love how you related your journey to your character’s! Great stuff, girl!

  4. Wendy says:

    Such a fun analogy. I make mine stretch. Actually, I stretch them until I’m sure I know them inside and out.
    ~ Wendy

  5. Kudos to you on leaping into your new regimen. It sounds like it’s going great! And I loved the connection to the character’s journey. Nicely done!

  6. Yay for you for doing what isn’t easy. I’m trying to get my workout routine kick-started again after a longer-than-I’d-like lull.

    But you’re right. I think true change comes when we do something even when we don’t feel like it (this can work with things like love and forgiveness as well!). I think God will honor your desire to change and truly help give us the strength to make it through when we’re feeling weak.

    Go, Keli, go!

  7. Cindy R. Wilson says:

    Yay! I’m glad you’re enjoying walking. That’s my favorite way to exercise, so it’s harder for me in the winter when it gets too cold. I like the way you explained character arcs, especially the coping part. That’s the big thing I do to test my characters. I take their weakness, the “bad” way they deal with situations, and then put obstacles in their path that immediately make them want to take the easy way out and as you said “cope” with the situation in their usual bad way. Yup! And they fight me on it 🙂

  8. Keli, you go girl and nail those workouts. Love the analogy with our personal development and our character arch. Is it a natural human event to go through these phases? No, there are many who have arrested development, those who stall on step one or two, who never begin because of fear or worse, laziness. These are the same elements we see in our craft. Some attempt to seek publication before they take the nec. steps in their personal develoment, thus their stories are weak.

    You are an inspiration, no only because of your recent decision to take control of your destiny, but because you are one of those generous souls who allows us to share your journey. You are a better person and writer because of it … and we … your grateful readers are better for knowing you 🙂

  9. Get yourself a rain jacket, rain hat and waterproof pants and, like me, you’ll find the rainy days are just another wonderful nature experience. I have found that most rainy days the rain lets up when I set out on my run, and it’s quite refreshing.

  10. Loree Huebner says:

    I exercise everyday. I alternate daily workouts – I stretch, weight train, walk, cardio – I guess it’s the same for my characters.

    You look to be the picture of health, Keli!

  11. jeanniecampbell says:

    you look super cute in your walking outfit! 🙂 i just got back into exercising after being sick. whew. the sickness (flu, sort of) really zapped my strength, so i’m easing back into my routine. i hated every day while i was away…plus, i was SICK and felt AWFUL! but i’m on the mend…yay!

    i love your 5-step process. it’s very succinctly stated, and i totally agree.

  12. Excellent post, Keli. I’m doing a ton of character-arc studying at the moment, so this is a great supplement to what I’m learning. 🙂

    And can I just say how darn cute you look in your workout gear? Seriously. If you ever get tempted to quit, you should get out there just because of the comfy clothes. 🙂

  13. cynthiaherron says:

    Great analogies, Keli!

    And change? Eeeek! But seriously, I’ve found it stretches me and keeps me goal-focused.

  14. bethkvogt says:

    Thanks for the update, Keli. Love the photo–cheering you on as you go for a new, improved, healthier you!
    Before I can settle on my character’s arc, I do a lot of backstory stuff: dark moment, greatest dream, lie they believe, how does that affect them now, how does that affect them spiritually … that kind of thing. I also like to look at birth order and how that affects their personality too.Then I start brainstorming the inciting incident and what is going to get in the way of my character achieving their goal.
    Have been doing this just today, as a matter of fact!

  15. Good for you on the exercise routine, Keli! I try to do something each week, but lately I’ve been kinda bad about it all. I do, however, do push-ups with the Oregon Duck mascot during the Oregon games! Last week it was 110 total guys push-ups, then I changed to sit-ups and did 100 more of those. My arms are going to be toned by the end of the football season! 🙂

  16. Gina Conroy says:

    Hey, I found you! Good stuff, I need to look over this list again and jump back into my WIP!

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