lifes trials

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The 8 Steps of a CHARACTER ARC

You know that moment as a writer, when you’ve been charging through the story, high on how fantastic it is, and then suddenly…it all STOPS.  The next scene doesn’t form in your head. You’ve got nothing. 

Behind your characters, a string of bright and captivating scenes mark the trail of that rocket of inspiration; ahead of your characters, a foggy expanse, stretching to who-knows-where, a few shapeless blobs that should be scenes floating in the nothingness. The rocket is dead, and not refueling any time soon.

Well, to everybody who’s suffered this, or is currently suffering it, there’s a way to navigate through that fog. A map. Directions and a destination.

Or, more specifically, events that form the underlying structure of the story. 

This post is going to focus on one facet of story structure: character arc. Structure is something people subconsciously recognize and expect, and if the story doesn’t match those expectations, they feel cheated (though usually can’t explain why). Every good story follows a structure. So if you know structure, you’ll always know where to go next, and won’t get lost in the fog. 

So here are the 8 steps of a character arc:

1) Hero: Strength, Weakness, and Need

This happens in the setup of the story, when the main character’s ordinary world is being introduced. First, the main character’s strengths must be displayed; we must be given a reason to like them, or if not exactly “like” them, empathize with them, and be fascinated by them. The reader needs to bond with the character, feel concerned about how it all turns out for them. Or in other words, feel that the main character is worth experiencing the story. There are easy traits that do this: courage, love, humor, being in danger, being unfairly treated, being highly skilled at something, having a powerful noble goal. (Courage is the one they all need. If the character doesn’t have the gumption to actively pursue what they want, they are automatically a background character.) 

After this, still in the beginning of your story, let the character exhibit what needs to change. Show their weaknesses of character and self awareness.
And lastly, hint at what they NEED to learn. Sometimes this is even stated to the character, and they don’t understand it, refuse to believe it, or condemn it. Like “A Christmas Carol”, when Scrooge’s nephew says his speech about Christmas and how wonderful it is, and Scrooge replies “Bah Humbug!" 

2) Desire: This is the moment when the character knows what they need to pursue, in order to obtain what they inwardly want. It is not the inciting incident or catalyst, the event in a story that disrupts the ordinary world and calls the hero on an adventure. This is a separate step entirely, occurring after that catalyst has shattered life as the main character knows it. They believe obtaining this goal will calm whatever inner turmoil or conflict they’re battling. And always, they’re not quite right.
Think of Mr Fredricksen: His goal is to get the house – a  symbolic representation of Ellie and the life he shared with her – to Paradise Falls, which he believes will heal his grief and guilt. It won’t. Once he obtains it, the achievement feels hollow. But I’m getting ahead of myself. So on we go! 

3) Plan: Once in Act Two, the character is going to scramble for a plan of action. The inner want has solidified into a tangible goal, but they need a strategy to achieve it. This also spells out for the reader what to expect in that second act.  

4) Conflict: What’s going to try stopping them? A hero with a goal is one thing, but to make it a story we need something that stands in the way. An obstacle. A force of opposition. If we didn’t have obstacles, books would be as interesting as "Harry Potter and the Trip to the Grocery Store.” (Although honestly, I’d probably read that.) After the catalyst has changed everything, after the character crosses the threshold into Act Two, everything from here on out will be laden with conflict. This is usually when enemies, or more accurately forces of opposition, begin to appear. Everything is accumulating to complicate the main character’s pathway to achieving what they want. The forces of opposition come from not only the villains, but from the actions that have to be taken to achieve the desire. Whatever this action is, it’s exactly what the main character is not suited to do, an action that pressures their flaws, exposes them to exactly what they need to become but can’t right now. 

Like Stitch being forced to be the family dog. He’s not suited to this task.

5) Battle: The forces of opposition are amping up, growing stronger, fighting with greater intensity. The main character is taking the punches and working around them, relentlessly plowing forward. Hero and allies are usually punching back too.

6) Midpoint: This is the event where they first encounter what they need to learn, what they need to become. Something happens that forces them to behave in this new, life-saving way. But once they’ve seen it, they don’t know what to do with this knowledge. 

7) Dark Night, Revelation, Choice:
This is always the darkest point in the story, where all seems lost, and death – of a literal or spiritual nature – is in the air. And in this moment, something usually happens that makes the main character wake up to what is wrong, and what they need. More often than not, this revelation will arrive from the “love story” or relationship of the plot, and will be the thing that helps them pull themselves out of despair and see the light. And once this is uncovered, once the revelation of the truth about themselves is recognized, they are faced with a choice. Of course, they’ve been faced with choices in every beat of every scene, but this is the big choice that is going to determine if their story has a happy ending or a tragic one. The choice is this: “You are being faced the truth that you need to heal. Are you going to choose what you need, let your old self die, and become someone better?” And always, always, always this is a hard choice. The revelation must be significant to them. And it’s never easy. It can’t be. We don’t write stories about heroes who make easy choices. Villains have it easy. Are you going to adopt this new way of living, adopt this truth, and let your old self die? Or are you going to stay the way you are (which feels safer and is much less challenging) but end up stuck in a sort of living death? Most of the time, of course, they choose the right thing. 

This moment is usually always the saddest scene in the thing. Like this scene with Stitch.

8) New Life: This is their changed life. After experiencing the trials of the story, after realizing what they need and choosing to be reborn, they are going to be different people – and are going to live a different life. This is what follows the statement “And every day after …” What has changed? Show the audience how things are different, how things are better, because they want to see that. This is the resolution, the wrapping up of everything we’ve been through with the main character, and having this in the story is often what gives that feeling of satisfaction after seeing a really well-told story. 

So! To show off how this works, I’ve chosen the character arc of Carl from Up. 

1) Hero: Strengths, Weakness, Need

Strengths: Reasons to like Carl are packed into that heartbreaking opening sequence. By the end of it, we love him, love Ellie, and are crying our eyes out.

Weaknesses: Now Carl is curmudgeonly, grumpy, cold, and won’t pay attention to a living soul. He’s also plagued by grief, regret, guilt, and loneliness. (Which we are all 100% okay with, because we already like him.)

Need: He needs Russel. The statement of what he needs to learn isn’t outright said (as it will be later) but Russel represents it. 

Step Two: The catalyst was when a truck knocked down Ellie’s mailbox, Carl hit a construction worker in the head with his cane, and for this a judge declares him a public menace and orders him to go to Shady Oaks Retirement Village. The DESIRE is this moment. 

Carl escapes in a flying house, thousands of balloons lifting him skyward. He even says the desire of the whole story out loud, “So long boys! I’ll send you a postcard from Paradise Falls!” The tangible goal is “live out the rest of his days in his and Ellie’s house, on the edge of Paradise Falls, South America.” (“It’s like America … but South.”)

Step Three: The plan and the conflict overlap, as they are wont to do. We have a scene where Carl is unfurling sails, setting a compass, and settling back in his chair for a smooth journey. But later on, after some conflict has arrived, we have Russel figuring out how to actually make it there. And after even more conflict has arrived, we have him telling Russel “We’re going to walk to the falls quickly and quietly, with no rap music or flash-dancing.”

Step Four: The moment he settles back into his armchair, high above the city, and here’s a knock on the front door, nothing is going to be easy for Carl. First, we have opposition in the form of Russel. Then we have a storm. Then the house lands miles away from the Falls, so they’ll have to walk it. Then we have Kevin, the giant bird. Then we have Dug. Which means they’re also being chased by a legion of talking dogs. Which brings us to Muntz, the main villain, and Carl’s shadow – the representation of Carl’s flaws, and the consequences of refusing to let go of the past. 

Step Five: This is the trek to the Falls. It’s also the battle with every complication that arises. And it’s also exactly what Carl is not suited to do. He’s a curmudgeonly old guy, bent on living out the rest of his life alone. Well, the story says “Nope, Carl, that’s not how it’s going to be” and promptly gives him a surrogate grandson to take care of, a dog who adores him, and even a giant mythical bird. And he has to lead them all, if he’s going to get to the Falls. 

Step Six: The moment when Russel invades Carl’s heart. Which is what he needs, but he doesn’t understand. (I have the scene beated out in the previous post.)

Step Seven: Finally, he gives in to the worst of himself and chooses his goal of living in his broken house on the edge of Paradise Falls. But somehow this doesn’t feel like victory. He’s still alone, next to Ellie’s empty chair, and she is still beyond his reach. 

He picks up her adventure book, and leafs through the photographs, missing her; he pauses on the page scrawled with the words “Stuff I’m Going To Do”, lets his hand rest on it, grief and regret overwhelming him. He begins to close the book, and the page shifts … revealing the edge of another picture. Surprised, he turns the page. It’s their wedding picture.

Ellie added picture after picture of their happy marriage, the whole wonderful life they shared, all the things she did. And on the bottom of the last page is her last message to him: “Thanks for the adventure! Now go have a new one! Love, Ellie.” Exactly what Carl needs. He doesn’t need to be guilty, he doesn’t need to regret the past. The past was beautiful, and she will never truly leave him. 

Choice: So, Carl can make the choice to throw everything out of the house to go save Russel. 

New Life: Sitting on a curb, eating ice cream with Russel.

In the credits, we see a whole new life – or new adventure – with Carl, Russel, Dug, and even a bunch of new puppies.

So, it’s actually pretty simple. And once again, it’s fun to develop your own stories like this, but it’s surprisingly fun to analyze movies and books with it too. It improves your storytelling ability, I’ve found. Practice makes perfect.

I hope this post helps somebody out. It’ll make the ten times I cried while writing it, while watching scenes from Up, worth it.

and then there are days when the simple act of breathing leaves you exhausted. it seems easier to give up on this life. the thought of disappearing brings you peace. for so long i was lost in a place where there was no sun. where there grew no flowers. but every once in a while out of the darkness something i loved would emerge and bring me to life again.
Rick Riordan The Ship of the Dead Tour Information!

Here’s some stuff I learned at the Rick Riordan tour stop:

  • @viria‘s art was in the powerpoint and it was so beautiful, bless it 
  • Mallory Keen backstory in Ship of the Dead
  • Hearthstone is going back to see his father in Ship of the Dead
  • (he didn’t say too much about the book tbh)
  • Aru Shah and The End of Time by Roshani Chokshi: March 27, 2018 (she was at my tour stop and someone in the audience got an arc of the book; lowkey jelly)
  • New Kane Chronicles book (like Camp Half Blood Chronicles): May 2018
  • Trials of Apollo: The Burning Maze: May 1, 2018
    • He officially announced that Piper and Jason will make a return in this book
    • Also, all of the characters from HoO will show up at some point in ToA
  • The Storm Runner by Jennifer Cervanten: Fall 2018
  • The Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee: Fall 2018
  • The Magnus Chase Coloring Book: August 14, 2018
  • HE ADDRESSED THE LIGHTNING THIEF MUSICAL AND I WAS LIVING MY LIFE
    • He did say he hasn’t listened to it though, saying that like the movies and the audiobooks, he finds it weird to listen to his own writing
  • The Lightning Thief Illustrated Edition: August 14, 2018
  • New updated website at readriordan.com: fully updated by October 17th
    • There will be a “Who’s your godly parent?” quiz 
  • Bonus: He also directly mentioned college students reading his books, saying he plans on sticking to middle grade writing, but he appreciates us still reading the books if we want!
  • Also, he does like falafel.
A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.
—  Trials and Tribulations

Aren’t you curious, why I fell in love with you? It is not your looks, but your personality that truly captured my heart. And when I’m facing life trials you’re the one that appears and comfort me, as if you can feel my aches. You’re there reminding me that things will be alright. That I’m not alone.

Deity, already written our fate, meant to be or not meant to be, I’m glad that I met you, that we take chances of a lifetime, I’m sure we’ll cherish it for the rest of our lives. You’re the chapter of my life that I’ll re-read till I’m grey and wrinkles crosses my eyes.

  • <p> <b><p></b> <b><p></b> <b>Friend:</b> Do you want to go for lunch?<p/><b>Me:</b> Let me check my diary. *opens book* I can't. I have fan-related things on.<p/><b>Friend:</b> Like what?<p/><b>Me:</b> At noon, I have to deal with my feels. At two, I have to go home and cry about Fred Weasley... But I have a free hour after Chris Evans appreciation hour.<p/><b>Friend:</b> <p/></p><p/></p>

VIRGO: So, you’re finally figuring out where the pieces of your life are supposed to fit together and ‘relief’ is a bit of an understatement. There was a time in which your existence felt a lot like trying to finish a puzzle while blindfolded: all of the parts within reach yet, still so far away. But you kept going and you found yourself again and I hope that you’re proud. I hope that when you go to sleep at night you feel comfortable with your decisions and all of the things you’ve been strong enough to overcome. I can’t promise that you won’t find yourself faced with broken things in need of fixing again, but I can promise that you’ll be able to put it back together. You always do.

LIBRA: It seems like every time you leave the house nowadays you brace yourself for impact, which is another way of saying that you’ve had to abandon being soft in order to survive. You’ve had to use your voice to ask for things that your earlier self would’ve shoved under the carpet. And while that’s definitely something to be proud of, the strength you’ve found within yourself, don’t let that close you off to all of the joy that accompanies being kind and open. It’s possible to stand your ground with open palms; asking for what you deserve and embracing the gentler aspects of life aren’t mutually exclusive. They never will be unless you let them.

SCORPIO: I know that it’s hard to refrain from comparing yourself to every person you meet, but you have to remember that not everybody has had the same background as you. Not everybody understands the feeling that comes with being told you’re not good enough, or the feeling of realizing that the people you thought were friends had been bringing you so far down that your back was flat against the floor. You haven’t fallen behind or lost your way just because you’ve had to take a few detours in order to find yourself. You’re trying your best, and your best is more than good enough. Someday you’ll be grateful that you kept on fighting.

SAGITTARIUS: Recently you felt the spark that can only ever mean something is beginning; it’s unfortunate that sometimes this also indicates that another thing is ending. And while that’s typically sad, an event you’re bound to mourn, every closed door is an opportunity to turn yourself around and have an experience that you wouldn’t normally. Eras will end as you continue to grow into yourself, and that doesn’t mean that they’re THE end. Be self-aware and work some more on loving yourself as you embrace these fresh starts and their accompanying lifestyle changes; there’s nothing shameful about being a fan of yourself.

CAPRICORN: One of the hardest things you’ll ever have to learn is that sometimes people leave and there isn’t a reason or a motive behind it, they just go. And that doesn’t mean that you did anything to instigate this, or that you push where others pull; it just means that because of whatever external reason, something wasn’t quite right. There’s no reason to make lists of all the people that you feel you’ve driven away when there are others beside you that are supportive, wanting only to shower you in the affection that you dole out so generously. The way that your peers choose to exit your life is always going to be a choice that they make themselves. You are not a burden.

AQUARIUS: You don’t have to treat every beautiful thing that waltzes into your path as if it’s temporary, bound to disappear as soon as you look away. I know that it’s hard to take good fortune with anything other than a grain of salt after everything you’ve lost, but perpetually being in a state of worry when you have no reason to be so is ridiculous. Your potential for happiness is so much greater than you’re allowing yourself to have. There aren’t limits or rules when it comes to the progress you make and the people you invite into your life. If you spend all of your time walking on eggshells, you’ll never able to leave your mark. Be bold. Be genuine.

PISCES: You’ve been taking happy vibes to the next level lately and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. I know occasionally you start thinking that maybe you don’t deserve to be feeling this light, or that there are more pressing aspects of your life that you should be devoting your attention to, but what you’re doing right now is more than okay. It’s encouraged, in fact. Try not to hold yourself to a higher standard than you would hold the people that you love to. The perfectionist that shows up within you very once in awhile to make unnecessary comments about your progress isn’t the boss of you, you’re the boss of it. Allow yourself to be happy without any strings attached.

ARIES: It always takes time to adjust to a situation that you’ve never been in before, especially when you’re doing it all by yourself. Don’t forget that you’ve seen and conquered cities much bigger than this one. I know that everything in you wants to make a snap judgement regarding whether or not you like the direction you’re walking in, but try to refrain from doing so too soon as it could change your perception of an otherwise lovely experience. Give this road a chance before re-routing and switching courses altogether. Listen to your gut, you know more than anybody else what will benefit you most in the long run.

TAURUS: Are your days really blurring together, or are you so afraid of feeling something new that you’re hiding behind the safety of monotony? Sure, you’re stuck in more than a couple of ways, nobody’s denying that you’ve faced more than your share of quicksand. But something you should consider is how your actions play into that. I think there’s a sort of comfort in being stationary, as you know exactly what to expect, but I also think that you deserve a better quality of life than you’re currently getting and some of the responsibility for changing that rests on your shoulders. Try something new this month and see what happens next.

GEMINI: The heat of summer has peaked and descended and you’re finally able to leave the house without getting burned. This means that it’s time to refamiliarize yourself with your surroundings, because in the midst of life and all its trials I think you’ve forgotten about what’s in front of you. Examining the ground that your feet touch day after day, with eyes that are wise and observant and actually looking, can lead to revelations about yourself. I know that you’ve felt the holes in your life as of late and you’ve been looking for something to fill them, and the materials to do this are closer than you think. You might already be holding them.

CANCER: It’s really easy to overthink your choices when you’ve become accustomed to exposing the soft parts of yourself only to be handled roughly and without the right amount of care. And yet despite your history of hurt you’re still choosing to try again, which says a lot more about you than other people’s actions ever could. Nobody is going to hate you for laying bare your heart and soul, and if they do then that means they don’t deserve to see it anyways. You are allowed to feel proud of your accomplishments and you’re allowed to be vocal about it. Don’t be hesitant with self praise and accepting it from others. Everyone’s rooting for you.

LEO: Your environment lately has been hectic, to say the least, and that’s starting to take a toll on you more than you can probably see. I know that it feels as though you don’t have time to take a break, and that in order to cross-off every task on your never-ending to-do list you need to constantly be on the run, but that’s just your anxiety talking. While time is a constant wave that we’re all riding, that doesn’t mean you can’t lay back and enjoy the view as you float. Caring for yourself will never be detrimental to your progress, as the health of your mind and body are crucial when it comes to success. Give yourself a break for not being a superhero.