Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Character Arc in a Series--Part 6

Ten days from deadling for Coral Moon and counting.

And guess what—I finally figured out today how I’m gonna make the end work. !! This is so typical a problem with me. I know how the book needs to end; I’m just not quite sure how I’m going to pull it off. At the moment I’m thinkin’ maybe this book won’t be so horrid after all.

Second good piece of news today is that I heard my books (three of the four Hidden Faces series) are in Costco now. Apparently, however, they get put on the table as room allows. In the Costco nearest me, mine weren’t on the table, but I saw boxes of books underneath, waiting their turn.

Back to our current topic regarding character arcs for protagonists within a series. Today, five questions to ask yourself (in no particular order) when you’re wondering which subplots in the protagonist’s life to wrap up within one book, and which ones to continue to the next book(s) in the series.

1. Can I make this problem worse before it gets better? If so, maybe you should continue it for a while.

2. How long has it been going on in the character’s life? If it’s been a long-standing problem, it needs proper time to fix. This could include such issues as emotional healing from the past or from a recent trauma, an illness or injury, a problematic relationship with family member or friend, and others. And a “fix” to problems such as long term emotional ones may not mean everything in this area is suddenly is peachy keen. It may well just mean a turning point has been reached—one hefty enough to satisfy the reader.

3. Romantic subplot? I say use it as long as you can, preferably to the last book. Most readers enjoy the romantic subplot. Keep ’em wondering who your protagonist is going to end up with. Give him/her a number of choices—then play ’em up good.

4. Is this problem getting draggy to my plot? Been going on too long? Might the reader be tiring of it? If your protagonist begins to sound like she’s whining or angsting (verbing those nouns again) about the same thing over and over, better do something about that.

5. Has this been a big enough subplot in this book that the reader will feel unsatisfied if it’s not brought to at least some closure? Again, closure doesn’t need to mean the problem’s totally fixed. Depending upon how bad it’s been, just getting a handle on it, or really determining to overcome it can feel like enough closure for that particular book.

I’m sure there are other guideline questions, but these came the most quickly to my mind. Perhaps some of you can add to this list. But at least these five need to be asked--because answers to some of them might counterweight answers to the others. Then you have the challenge of deciding which answer takes priority.

Even in the end of the series, I wouldn’t want to completely solve every problem of the character. If you’ve just got the character going in the right direction regarding some issue, the reader should feel satisfied that things are going to improve. I think overall this is the right way to go, in that it best reflects life, but I will admit that the resolution in the final book may prove your most controversial among readers. I’ve found it interesting to read some fan letters from folks who’ve loved the Hidden Faces series, but include something like, “Oh, no, is the series ending? I really want to know what happens with [the romantic subplot].” And I’m thinking, huh? To me it’s very clear where the characters are headed. But it just depends on what the reader’s used to. If someone reads my stuff and also reads romance novels (now that would be an eclectic person), she might expect more of a trip-down-the-aisle ending for the romantic subplot. I don’t know; I don’t have final answers on this. But I do remind you that you’re never going to please everybody with every aspect of your book(s).

And I know I’m repeating myself from yesterday, but please don’t bring every last character to salvation just because the series is ending! It ain’t reality.


Stuart said...

Thanks for going through all this :) The posts definetly merit closer study as time goes on.

you're such a good teacher. :)

Becky said...

These questions are excellent. I especially like the angsting one--was guilty of that in book 2 and had my critters call me on it. Now I think I know to ask this question of my story (whether or not I recognize the true answer is another question!)


Katie Hart said...

I definitely agree about keeping the romantic subplot going. I've read series where the protagonist is married by book two or three, and my interest usually wanes. The one exception is generational or other loosely-related series titles with different protagonists.

I also prefer the more subtle endings. Some books keep going, and going (for example, Lori Wick's books, whose protagonists often go from unmarried to married with a whole pack of children by the book's end). The not-so-defined endings feed the reader's imagination. I love that lingering bit of wonder.