Character Arcs

Recently, I moved from a rural mountain town to suburbia.  Still in northern California, but a very different northern California than I’m used to.  I grew up in California and went to school at UC Davis so it’s not like moving to a suburban landscape is completely foreign to me.  I’m just not accustomed to living is such proximity to so many people.

The other day while riding my bike to work, a car cut me off.

It was the classic maneuver.  I waited patiently at a red light along with said asshole.  I, on my bike, stood on the right hand side of the road.  Maybe the guy thought I wasn’t going to go straight.  Maybe he thought I was gonna make a right along with him, but then why would I be waiting for the light?  In California, one can make a right hand turn on a red light as long as it’s clear.  And for a bike, that can squeeze between the curb and the cars, there really is no reason to stop at a red light if you are turning right (of course, except to check for traffic).

Anyway, as soon as the light turned green, the guy shot out in front of me as I’m lumbering forward still half off my bike, and turned right.  I had to hit the brakes hard and half turn into the curb to avoid hitting the dude.  In a low voice, I said, “Sheesh!”  and gave him a dirty look that he hopefully caught a glimpse of in his rearview mirror.  Shaking my head, I continued straight through the intersection.  As I rode the rest of my way to work, my nice and cheery morning mood  shattered, I thought of all the ways I could get back at this guy.  One scenario involved swords and a boat.  Don’t worry, I won’t explain.  But as I contemplated this dude’s punishment, I came to realize that my compassionate outlook towards humanity deteriorated rather quickly after arriving in suburbia.  After living in the mountains (away from people), I imagined myself a changed person.  Able to respond to life’s little incidents with calm assurance and understanding.

So wrong.

Now I understand why Buddhist monks seclude themselves in remote sanctuaries.  Humanity can blot out the best of intentions.

But the worse thing about the whole incident is that I realized I haven’t really changed.  No, I am no longer the arrogant cyclist that would chase drivers into their driveways and wait patiently for them to exit their vehicle so I could inform them how they just left me for dead on the side of the road.  No, at least, I don’t do that anymore. 🙄

But, I still want to.

I suppose that is why we read.  In books, in good books, characters have this thing called an ‘arc’.  A character arc, if you will.  In the craft of writing, a character’s arc or story arc indicates the change that a character experiences by events.  So, in the beginning of the story, an easily angered cyclist changes to an understanding cyclist because she comes to realize that drivers are just human and make mistakes too.  The story moves and changes the characters.  We, as readers, draw satisfaction from their learned experiences.

In this week’s Writer’s Digest email newsletter, Jessica Strawser highlights some of the key character spectrums postulated by D.P. Lyle.  From tough guy to whiner, from believer to doubter, etc.  Where do your characters start on the spectrum and where do they end?  Very interesting idea, one that I will explore with my own characters.  But in the meantime, I need to go chase me down some bad drivers. 😉


3 thoughts on “Character Arcs

  1. Hi Nila,

    This is Ansel. Nice new site. I checked your Clear Reality one and you mentioned you were switching to this one and you have had some life changes. I hope all is well. It has been hot here in the Northwest the last few days. I have been working on projects myself and have switched my site also, but to a new location. venue.

    I have listed your site under my links page under friends. Well keep plugging away and I can’t wait to see more of your stories.

    Take care and talk to you soon.

    T. Ansel Knemeyer

    1. Ansel! Dude! I thought you dropped off the face of the earth (maybe off to your vegan world?)! So, glad to hear from you. I will bookmark your new site and add you to my own list (nice site by the way). Sorry, I didn’t port yours over to this site because I really thought you had dropped off the face of the earth. 😉

      I heard about the heat up your way. A friend took eight girls to a basketball game to Portland last week – 100 degree weather! Yikes! I’m in Santa Rosa now, not too far from home, but far enough.

      Glad to hear that you are still writing and I too wait to see more of your stories. Cheers! 🙂

      1. I sort of fell off the face of the earth, but realized it was round. It was a tough but I made it back! 🙂 Thanks for adding me to your site. I appreciate it. One thing I like about your site is you give some technical info. It nice to see another interpretation of things I have read. I read that article as well. It is good to take tidbits of info and see how we can craft them or mold them into our writing.

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