The Positive Change Arc

Now that we are wrapping up the steps you’ll need to take when planning, crafting, and writing the beginning of your novel let’s get into the details of the positive change character arc. There is more than one type of character arc that your protagonist can follow (as in the negative change arc and the flat arc) but the main character of my first book of The Meer series follows a positive change, so that is the process it that I will be outlining in this post. I have acquired my knowledge on the writing process from several different sources, including drawing from my own experience as I write, but for this post I am using what I’ve learned from author K. M. Weiland’s book Creating Character Arcs. To anyone who really wants to explore character arcs in-depth I would suggest this book and will include a link regarding it at the end of the article. I do not wish to take credit for anyone else’s methods or ideas, so please note, as I said that my source for this post is K. M. Weiland’s book Creating Character Arcs.

Step 1: What is your characters truth in the beginning of the novel (the truth that will eventually become his lie)? 

Ask yourself that question. Does it make sense? Trust me, just think about it. I promise you that it does. Basically, you need to determine what truth that the protagonist believes in the beginning but has realized is false sometime in the writing of your novel. You have to remember when doing this that what we consider to be ‘true’ is based on our perspectives and beliefs. You have to determine the ‘truth’ (or ‘untruth’) as something that can logically be proved wrong to your character. Just like how some people may lose faith in their religion after a loved one dies but others hold steady, whether what they believe makes sense or not. Which will your character be? If your protagonist is stubborn and refuses to accept his truth as a lie then he either will not be enlightened to this fact until later on in the novel, or his character arc is not a positive change arc.

Example: The main character in the first book of  my series The Meer (a meerkat named Sand) is taught from a young age that family looks after family, but his world is shaken when a group split tears his family apart. The lie that he believes is: family doesn’t hurt family. Now, how my arc will develop is a tad different. Since Sand’s arc will continue to develop throughout the series, he will not discover that his ‘truth’ is not always true until the second book. If I were just writing one stand-alone novel then Sand would discover and come to accept this towards the end of the work.

Step 2: How is the ‘untruth’ holding your character back? How will he discover the real ‘truth’? Why does your character believe in the ‘untruth’?

Listen up, its back story time. As you answer these questions you should be considering your character’s past and present, regarding the lie and truth and conflict surrounding what your character wants and what he needs. What your character wants should have this basic answer: to believe in the untruth. What he needs, then, is: to see what is really true. You must determine how the untruth is affecting your character and just how he comes to understand that the lie he believes is, indeed, a lie. This is where the character’s back story comes in. Why does the haunted big city detective see shadows everywhere when he moves back to his hometown? Is it because of something tragic in his past? Maybe he witnessed his wife murdered in front of him, and now feels that he cannot trust his own judgment. Maybe he recently put a child killer behind bars and now believes that there is no goodness left in the world. See what I mean? You will need to figure that out.

Example: The reasoning for Sand to believe the lie is relatively simple, he was raised to believe it. Nothing tragic happens to reinforce it, at least not until Act II of the book. Which I wouldn’t want to spoil for you.

Step 3: What important personality trait or skill best sums up your character? How can you reveal this trait to the fullest extent while also introducing the plot? What setting will open the work? How can you contrast the protagonist’s normal world with the ‘adventure world’ to follow?

This is when your protagonist confronts the normal world with a charismatic moment. The normal world is the place in which your character feels comfortable and safe, wrapped in the protective embrace of his untruth. This is a place that your character will most likely resist leaving until he feels that he has no other choice. The adventure world is what follows after the character leaves the normal world behind. It is unfamiliar to the character, but the character will still cling to his untruth as he travels farther from the normal world. This new perspective is what likely will force the protagonist to face the truth. The normal world and adventure world don’t have to be physical settings per say, but they do have to be distinctly different from each other. Your character’s charismatic moment should happen as he enters the adventure world or right before. This should be a moment in which his most defining characteristic or skill is made apparent. This will help the readers understand who the protagonist is and what he wants/needs.

Example: In Act I of the first book of The Meer series, my protagonist Sand gets a taste of the adventure world when he is kidnapped and then abandoned by his careless older siblings in a place that he is unfamiliar with. While he is trying to find a way home he demonstrates his charismatic moment. It doesn’t seem like much but as he thinks about what will/could become of himself and his family if he didn’t return, reveals to the readers his greatest trait: his limitless caring for this family.

All of these steps should take place (or at least be hinted at) in Act I of your novel. Of course the major happenings such as the protagonist discovering that his truth is actually a lie, should resolve or even be plot points. As always, your character and plot arcs should go hand and hand, affecting and merging in tandem as the story develops.

Click this link to read my post over viewing the different kinds of character arcs:

For more about K. M. Weiland’s book Creating Character Arcs: 

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 1: Can You Structure Characters?

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