Writing: Where Should Character Arcs Lead?

As writers we strive to show time passing through character arcs. We know they had a past because they face personal issues during the story, and this raises a question. Should we consider what happens when their personal issues are resolved?

Most of us dream of a better life in the future. Some of us make our dreams come climbing-157588_1280btrue and others, like myself, dream pipe dreams that may never happen. All our dreams put hope and motivation in our hearts.

Personally, I think too much about the past and wish I had the philosophy Bossman does. He believes that without all the chaos and heartache in our pasts we wouldn’t be the lovable people we are today.

Whether I agree or not, I prove the theory when I write. My characters are the way they are because I’ve given them a backstory.

Every once in a while I rewatch a series. Lately I’ve been rotating through Bones, Castle and Elementary and I’m noting the arcs in the main characters.

Why some character arcs work:

Castle grows as a writer and adds to his resume by becoming a private investigator.

The addiction Holmes and Booth have is a constant reminder of human frailty. And I think, a better arc because no one really recovers from addiction. It hangs over a person’s head and will weasel its way back to the forefront at any opportunity. The threat is a constant and daily threat.

Joan Watson has moved from doctor to life/addiction coach to investigator, therefore, the door is open to other careers as she changes with her personal needs.

Why Some arcs end:

Kate Beckett was admired from the start. She was strong, level-headed and red-lips-1213161_1280tortured by her mother’s murder. Eventually she lands up resolving the murder and finds peace. Letting her find peace stopped the series from moving forward. They did try sending her to the FBI and giving her a conspiracy to solve but they didn’t have the same oomph. Instead of getting rid of the character the network decided to cancel the show.

I guess what I’m saying is, even if you don’t have plans for a series leaving the door open and hinting at future dips in the road isn’t such a bad thing. It leaves the author and the characters places to go and grow.

Do you or your characters ever wonder if they’ll find peace?

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37 responses to “Writing: Where Should Character Arcs Lead?

  1. Yes, my characters do wonder that. And I agree, once a character has his/her happily ever after, there’s no more story. Plots are driven by conflict, so the door has to be left open for the those future dips on the road to keep readers interested. Even if the author isn’t going to go further with the series, I think hints of future bumps keep the story real and make endings more memorable.

  2. In one of my WIPs, I was planning on having the main character solve a problem (by the end of the story) that’s been plaguing him for ten years. Then it occurred to me that that problem shouldn’t be solved until the end of the series. gotta give the readers something to look forward to.

  3. I’m still ssad Castle was cancelled but I can see why. She pretty much stopped with Kate’s growth and really where else can a character go from there?

    I do think growth is always necessary, especially in an ongoing series or serial.And of course to have growth there needs to be some conflict as well, as much as we all hate to see our beloved characters get the shaft, it is necessary.

    I do like to see them get a HEA at the end though. I was worried there for a bit that Kate and Castle wouldn’t but I’m happy they did.

  4. I think some characters finish their arcs, and it’s time for them to move out of the story. For TV shows, in particular, I prefer when a show ends when the character’s arc ends. The shows that drag on another season or two are just not the same.

  5. I was sad to see Castle end but I was happy with that ending and I do so where it was losing its zing. I have been watching Bone since it premiered and have been amazed it’s still going and I still enjoy it. That is a show that has had some interesting character arcs for the whole cast. I watch Elementary too, however, I have been missing this last season so need to catch up.

    Juneta @ Writer’s Gambit

  6. Disorder, conflicts and confusion doesn’t just go away in life. There will be moments of peace, yes, but there’ll always be something or someone that disrupts that peace. But if the opposite happens in a story, it leads to less to no more character growth, unless it’s a stand alone that was meant to have a happily ever after ending. A series needs an overarching character growth for me to keep on with it.

  7. My characters usually find peace or some kind of resolution at the end, since I haven’t written a series yet. As for me…well, that’s a different story.

  8. I like to get the characters history, so I understand the way they act in the present and like to see growth.

  9. Loni Townsend

    I know I have plans for some of my characters to find peace after the end of my intended four book series. It’s a rough path to get there, but they do, and that’s the end (as far as I’m planning it).

    I was a bit disappointed with the ending to Castle (fast forwarding 7 years later), but I suppose that happens.

  10. Excellent post. I love having lots of room for my characters to grow. Maybe I torture them too much, but I love seeing how they will overcome things.

  11. I think for any good story to end, there must be a sense of peace. It’s actually one of the reasons I abandoned epic fantasy in this modern age. Authors seem to think they can just cliff hang every ending. NOT COOL, AUTHORS. So anyhow, off the rant train, if characters aren’t growing, I’m not interested. It’s true–but I like to see their psychological growth more than how their reality changes. I think that’s the key to a really compelling story.

  12. They will, but they have to go through hell and high water first. Some have to give everything and I can’t wait to play with that. I have a few mentors teaching me the art of character arcs, so this read came in handy. Thanks for writing it.:-)

  13. Primary plot question(s) must always be resolved, but I love, love, love an open ending. Whether a series or standalone, if I’m left curious about what happens to a protagonist down the line, it means the author has brought that character to life and made me care. Happily ever afters interest neither my reader- nor writer-self, but that’s a personal preference.

    VR Barkowski

  14. In my last book deal, I was instructed to plan a 5-book series that could end on Book 3 if they decided to pass on the option for the last two. Accordingly, I wrote Book 3 to wrap up most essential conflicts. As of now, I still don’t know if I’ll be allowed to continue the series, but I do worry about the character arcs. I wonder, did I do too good a job moving them through their personal growth? Is there any more growth left to drive the story forward? (I hope so, since I really want to write the other books!)

    • I hope you get to. Some arcs are opened ended but not in a large way. A person piques their interest or a wish to visit a country can lead to another arc of sorts.

      Good luck. 🙂

  15. Most of the character arcs came to a close in my fiction books, but the series continued because I switched to another character with a whole new set of issues.

  16. I didn’t realize I hadn’t commented yet! I thought that you made a great point about Beckett in Castle! This sort of element of character arc forms the spine of the story.

  17. jennifer@badbirdreads

    Joan’s progression in Elementary always interested me. great points. I still need to watch Bones.

  18. Great point about leaving the character some space to grow. I like that, even with stand alone books because it gives me more to consider after I finish a story. What’s next in that character’s life or will s/he ever get over that guilt?

    Your examples are perfect.

  19. Pingback: Writing: Where Should Character Arcs Lead? — elements of emaginette | Arrowhead Freelance and Publishing

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