Wednesday, March 01, 2006
Character Arc Within a Series
Good grief, how did we get one-sixth of the way through 2006 already?
Those of you who checked for a post yesterday and didn’t find it—it’s there now. Just got posted late.
Also, great to see (through the comments on Monday) what some of you are working on. And that a number of you will be at Mount Hermon. Wonderful! We’ll rock! Also, Cara, I really appreciate your prayer for me as I finish Coral Moon. I really need those prayers right now.
Today I want to talk about character arcs within a book series. Thanks to Lynette for the topic idea. She asked me how I handle planning and carrying out the arc for a protagonist when I know that character is going to be in three or four books in a row. I have no answers as to what’s “right”—not sure there is one “right” answer. I can only tell you what I’ve done.
Let’s back up a minute. There are two commendable components within a series that battle each other, as I see it. The first is a strong overall arc for the protagonist. The second is that in most cases publishers and readers want each book within a series to stand alone. With stand-alone stories a reader can pick up book #2 in the series and completely understand what’s going on, and see the end to the main plot. It’s a story within itself. However, if you’ve got a strong character arc going, that reader of book #2 is definitely going to miss out on some stuff. The character isn’t in the same place in which she started. (Or he, whatever the case may be.) She’s grown, and some aspect of her life has changed since book one. This is why I tell readers—sure, my books in a series stand alone. But to best enjoy the series, they should be read in order.
So—want the absolutest (if that's not a word, it should be) kind of stand-alone book in a series? Then don’t include an arc for your character. These series can certainly work. James Bond comes immediately to mind. Guy’s the same in each story. Always the clever hero. Always wins. Always gets the girl. We don’t see him change or learn much of anything (other than the change of face as different actors played him in the movies).
But this is not the kind of story I write. So, using the Hidden Faces series as an example, how did I plan the overall character arc for Annie, starting with the first page in book one and ending with the last page in book 4?
Honestly? I didn’t. Because I didn’t know the plots for all the books when I started out. I only knew the plot for book one. Still, I knew a character arc would naturally grow for Annie. There are some guidelines I followed in that first book that helped set me up for the future books. More about these tomorrow.
Read Part 2