Reply To: Lesson 3 The Role of External Challenges, Escalation

Home Forums MASTERING CHARACTER ARCS Lesson 3 The Role of External Challenges, Escalation Reply To: Lesson 3 The Role of External Challenges, Escalation


Hi, Ruchama

Many (perhaps most) romances don’t have character arcs. As you say, “the ultimate goal of the protagonists is to love and be loved,” so it can be ignored if the story pays off in other ways. Your readers’ concerns about marrying out point to an external goal. It is good that they get involved emotionally with that goal. But it appears to be disconnected. Will readers cringe internally when Rebecca’s loyalty leads to an external action? Does she even care about Daniel marrying out (which is not directly related to her personal goal of escaping until the very end)? Will they see this as a flaw? If so, good. If not, this external goal doesn’t say much about growth at present.

On her being “helpless in terms of harming,” that’s being a victim. Not having agency and thus being limited can be dramatic, but it can’t expose the flaw. It can’t contribute to growth or change. It can only indirectly impact the character arc.

If her last independent act is to abandon escape, and it is clear that she does this 1) because of something (a note, a reminder like a path she has walked with Daniel, or a revealing action by a villain, and 2) because of a concern about Daniel’s future or his progeny can be connected (even if it’s in a subsequent scene), some growth may be shown.

I’m curious about the idea of “enough harm.” I would not guess that Sloan Coffin would qualify his statement in such a fine way, and that was the defense for using an exaggerated virtue as a flaw.

My basic advice would be to explore intense and uncomfortable harm and walk it back as far as it needs to be (and no further) to fit the genre and the audience. I don’t see how “enough harm” is known without pushing the limits first. The mind resists pushing the limits. Comfort zones are not helpful to ambitious storytellers.


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