Creating a Believable Character Arc, by Janet Clementz

(AKA: Walk a Mile in Their Shoes)

 

We think we know what this often quoted, age-old, idiom means. But, have you mastered this technique?

In the creative world, we writers are attempting to convey a character’s perspective, motivation, and character arc while maintaining that character’s integrity.

Failing to get a character’s arc portrayed, believably, is often why I’ve had to reject a manuscript. The author may have created potential for a great story, but they’ve failed to understand more than one perspective. They’ve never truly put their main characters in another character’s shoes.

Toddler wearing adult shoes

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about using multiple points of view. What I mean is, it’s vital for the main character(s) to come to some level of understanding on why another character behaves as they do. Without that key element, it’s just words on the page. The last thing you want is 300 pages of your hero and heroine misunderstanding each other.

Without a successful character’s arc, your story is static. Your character remains the same from page one to The End. A successful character arc moves from that character’s base line to having learned, accepted, and gained knowledge of another’s life and/or events. To achieve this, one must have conflict. I’m sure you all know this, but let’s dive a little deeper.

The basis for Conflict is putting your character into a situation in which they are, at the very least, uncomfortable, and at the extreme, they are so far in over their heads they will probably die. Even if the conflict is strong and sustainable, the character(s) must be capable of empathy.

Empathy is the ability to recognize another’s pain/humor/grief/anger/joy without having personal experience of what caused those emotions. Without empathy, there would be zero chance of effecting a believable character arc. That character is incapable of caring for another.

Look at it this way… Even though you may not have ever had a tooth pulled, you most likely know someone who has. When that person shares his dental experience with you, then you gain insight into the actions/reactions/emotions of undergoing that procedure—and then you’re more apt to successfully portray the oppositional character’s perspective.

X-ray teeth 

The pinnacle of a solid character arc is often the trickiest. The author must move their character into one of two actions: Believable or Justified. Without the use of at least one of these points, your character’s integrity is lost.

Believable action: a character thinks or acts in a manner proven by that character’s prior experiences. In other words, what has come before comes back into play in a new situation, usually with higher stakes. Your character reacts in an expected manner—he’s true to himself.

Justified action: a character thinks or acts in a manner contrary to his/her own belief system, yet learned empathy allows the character to move in opposition to their beliefs. While the main character may not alter his own beliefs, due to his ability to fathom another’s perspective to some degree, he’s able to suspend judgment for a specific period-of-time. Or, he might possibly come over to the other side through the truth of proven facts. Your character reacts differently than before, yet the change is authentic.

In both options, the character’s integrity is maintained and the character arc is complete. If you’ve put all these elements together, your characters come to life and will have walked in another’s shoes on their way to Happily Ever After.

Well played, my friend! Your story will be unforgettable.

Wedding couple

 

janetJANET CLEMENTZ  earned a Bachelor of Science in Education at Black Hills State University in South Dakota, and Post Baccalaureate hours in English Literature from the University of Houston, in Texas.

Janet’s Credo: Writing fiction is my addiction, but editing is in my DNA. 

Background / Interesting Facts: Janet learned to adapt early in life, thanks to a name that is rarely pronounced correctly and often misspelled. (Facebook has a cute little pronunciation tool, so check out her page.)

Janet loves traveling and her adventuresome nature spurs many road trips. She’s lived in four states, and has visited thirty-nine of the fifty—so far. A seven-year stint overseas with her native-Texan-oil-patch hubby allowed excursions to four of the seven continents.

An award-winning author, she resides on the southern edge of San Antonio’s Hill Country with her husband, whom she’s kiddingly nicknamed Captain Bulldog. Janet spends her spare time with family and friends, or binge-watching eclectic TV series and old movies. She belongs to several writing groups and is a decades-long member of RWA. She’s published under the pseudonym of Jaye Garland.

What led Janet to editing: Back in the Dark Ages (prior to the Internet) Janet’s high school guidance counselor advised that a degree in English with an eye toward becoming an editor seemed her perfect career choice. Sounded great to her, but having been raised on the vast Great Plains, the young rancher’s daughter viewed life in the “big city” as daunting and a bit…dangerous. Granted, she could head off a stampeding herd of cattle and hit a rattlesnake’s buttons with a .22 rifle, but ask her to maneuver the public transit system or a city subway? Nope, wasn’t happening.

Fast forward a couple decades… After marriage and raising two smart-talented-handsome sons, living abroad just short of a decade and traveling the world, the biggest cities are now some of her favorite destinations. And, these days, thanks to the Internet, her office can be anywhere in the world.

Contact: Janet@SoulMatePublishing.com

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How To Successfully Co-Write

cici-final-headshot-med-res

By Cheryl Yeko and Char Chaffin, Senior Acquiring Editors for

Soul Mate Publishing

Co-Writing as CiCi Cordelia

Welcome to Soul Mate Publishing’s First Editor Blog. Char and I would like to discuss how we became acquiring editors for Soul Mate Publishing, then writing partners under the pen-name of CiCi Cordelia. We’ve been friends since 2011, when we both came onboard Soul Mate with our debut novels. We got to know each other virtually, and by the time we met in person at our first romance conference—Atlanta in 2013—it was as if we’d known each other forever. Soon, we both became acquiring editors with Soul Mate, cementing an already strong friendship.

During RWA Atlanta, we’d tossed around writing something together, and after one frenetic brainstorming evening came up with our first co-written book, Rodeo King, which debuted in 2014. We were thrilled when Rodeo King finaled in the 2016 Heart of Excellence Readers’ Choice Awards.

We had so much fun writing together, we decided to keep doing it, and agreed a pen name was in order. CiCi’s first name was easy, since both our names start with ‘C.’ All we needed was a last name. Eventually we came up with ‘Cordelia’ which means ‘heart,’ and our tagline is ‘Writing From The Heart.’

Co-writing is an exciting adventure, but it also comes with challenges, and is not for the weak at heart. Mutual respect and compromise is the key to a successful co-writing partnership.

Char and I talk on the phone frequently; every day if we’re working on a project. I’ll bring Char in here and we’ll discuss our writing processes and how they combine seamlessly into our works as CiCi Cordelia.

We’ll answer some of the questions we routinely receive regarding our partnership:

How do you combine your voices: Since Char’s a heavy plotter, and I’m a total fly by the seat, Pantser, it’s always fun!

Char: Writing with someone else opens up a whole new world of compromise. ::grin:: For me, I had to write more on the fly than ever, and Cheryl found herself dealing with my incessant need for outlining. Part of why CiCi succeeds is our ability to meet each other halfway.

Cheryl: True dat. Since I started writing with Char, I’ve learned to plot, just a bit. We do a general outline, so we can stay on track. But the stories never turn out the way we originally plotted them, so there’s still a lot of pantsing going on.

Who writes what chapter?

One of us writes a chapter, then sends it to the other for edits. We usually have two or three editing rounds before the chapter is polished enough to move on. Then the other one writes a chapter and we repeat the process.

How do you work out disagreements?

Char: We are both strong writers with strong opinions, so obviously we sometimes come at our basic plot in completely different ways, whether or not we’ve already set down an outline. We’ve never not been able to talk it out and find common ground we can both accept. I think that’s because we do know each other very well and consequently know when it’s better to cede rather than argue. Also, we understand when a project won’t work for us, the same as we instinctively know when we have picked a winner that will benefit from what we both bring to its creation.

Cheryl: This is where compromise comes into play. Char and I are fortunate that we love the same type of books and don’t often have disagreements. But, we’ve had a few. It’s a delicate balance because usually we are both right, it’s just that we’re having a difference in where we see the story leading. So, we carefully and respectfully work through it, until we agree upon the chapter, and where it’s heading. The best thing about co-writing is that this process leads to a better read, imo.

How do you both settle on genre? Characters? Titles?

Char:  It depends on whether one or both of us have an idea that won’t leave us alone, or whether we’re just chatting on the phone and brainstorming occurs. We both get so excited when we start talking plotting and characters, that often the genre and our hero/heroine creates themselves. As for titles, those can be toughies, but again if we just talk it out together, we find what’s right for our work.

Cheryl: Yeah, what she said . . . ::smile::

Do you use an outside editor and cover art services for your co-written works?

Char: Since we’re both editors, we usually edit each other during the creative process. Cheryl is a great developmental editor, and I’m punctuation-crazed and grammatically anal. Both of us are strong characterization editors. Cheryl handles all the cover art work, either creating it herself or working with a cover artist to come up with a selling cover.

Cheryl: We edit each other and that seems to work well. I do have a handful of critique partners I run my work through, and they catch a lot of stuff. By the time we finish our stories, they are pretty clean.

Does your writing partnership affect your working relationship as acquiring editors at Soul Mate Publishing?”

Cheryl & Char: That would be a yes . . . but only in a good way. Sometime in the fall of 2015, we were chatting as usual, and started toying with the idea of a long-range book/series project we could develop together as editors, and The Legend of The Soul Mate Tree was born. Thirteen books written by thirteen different Soul Mate authors. When we presented the idea to Soul Mate Owner and Senior Editor Debby Gilbert, she fell in love with the premise and gave it her professional blessing.

realmofthedragonThe first book, written by CiCi Cordelia, (aka Char Chaffin & Cheryl Yeko) Realm of the Dragon releases in January 2017, and then one book per month follows thereafter.

We’d like to share the promo trailer Cheryl created for the project. We hope you enjoy it! https://youtu.be/VjxyyD3TVoA

Cheryl also created a sexy little promo trailer for Realm of the Dragon that we’d love to share with you. https://youtu.be/YKFSkLDKpP4

We have great expectations for The Soul Mate Tree project, and plan for more co-editing projects in the future.

What would you advise for other authors who might be considering co-writing with one or more authors?

Char: First and foremost, you need to trust your co-writer. And it helps if you work with an author whose writing is similar to yours. I believe you should go at co-writing for the right reasons. Cheryl and I co-write because we love writing together and we believe the books we create together combine the best of both of us. As mentioned before, compromise is key. You’ll have to find common ground through every aspect of the process and you’ll need to leave your ego at the door, too.

Cheryl: As Char mentioned above, make sure you like and trust your writing partner. That’s key. Then look for someone who complements your work. It’s important to find a writer who makes your own writing stronger.

I do believe Char mentioned she’s anal . . . lol. True. I, on the other hand, am not. So I’m always rushing, wanting to get to the exciting part. That sometimes means leaving out details that would make the scene stronger. And Char sometimes writes with so much detail I find my mind wandering. So I edit her down, and she edits me up, and the pacing of our stories is the better for it. So don’t just look for someone who writes ‘just like you.’ Look for someone who melds with your own writing style to make a great story even greater.

Good luck, but most importantly…have fun!

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