character arc 7(b): Some examples

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Okay, so some examples of scenes where the character has to (A) face her worst fear, or where (B) she gets what she most wanted and doesn’t want it any more.

In my 2006 M&B novel All Work and No Play… (called Mistress in Private in the US), the heroine Jane is an achiever. She was never valued for her prettiness or femininity, instead always having to impress her mother with her success, and has become a workaholic. Her fiance has just broken up with her for another, more desirable woman. The only person she can trust is Jonny, an old friend who she hasn’t seen for years, but who she keeps in touch with over the internet.

She fears failure and humiliation. She desires success and prestige. Down deep, she wants to be valued for who she is, not what she achieves, though she doesn’t feel she deserves it. There’s her conflict. Her character arc is to realise that it’s worth risking failure for love, and that she deserves to be loved regardless of her success.

There’s a scene near the beginning which is designed to give you both the (A) and (B) scenarios, where the character is confronted with her worst fear, and also gets what she wants but then doesn’t want it any more. Jane meets this totally hot model called Jay and they’re really attracted to each other. He asks her out on a date. Jane sees this in terms of success: this guy is way out of her league, but if she can get him, she proves that she’s good enough. It’s like two fingers up to her rotten fiance, who I think is called Gary. (Rotten exes in my books always have names beginning with G.) However, her insecurities about her own appeal are way too deep, and so she asks her friend Jonny for advice. This is risking humiliation for her, but she figures nobody will ever know, because she trusts Jonny and they’ll never meet face to face.

So after a long cyber-talk with Jonny about what’s sexy and what men want etc, she has her great amazing date and passionate lovemaking with Jay. She’s won! She’s succeeded! Yes!

Then of course, she discovers that Jay is actually Jonny. The guy she had to ask advice from. Epic fail (scenario A)! Huge humiliation (scenario A)! Also, her trust in Jonny is totally gone, because he didn’t tell her in the first place (to be fair to him, he honestly thought she knew). So she’s had this totally great sex and is maybe more reassured that she’s attractive (which is what she wanted), but she’s lost her only friend in the world (so she doesn’t want it any more…therefore scenario B).

Since this happens near the beginning of the book, this is just the sort of thing that propels Jane forward and then backward, rather than any great pivotal learning moment. But hopefully it’s emotionally rich, because it’s confronting a character with her greatest fears, and also showing her that her coping strategies and goals are not adequate. And as the book goes on, she’s confronted over and over again with these problems, and the way she deals with them changes as she grows in character and courage. I hope.

Now, I’m not sure I thought of this particular scene consciously by thinking “how can I make my character face her worst fear and her best hope at the same time”? I do know, though, that I was always thinking, “how can I make things much worse and much more emotional for my character?” And really, that’s the same thing.

Does that make sense (I hope)?

Obligatory promo: If you’d like to see this scene in action, Mistress in Private is still available as an ebook for Kindle or in other formats on the eHarlequin website.

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4 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. Having already read Mistress in Private, I can see how you targeted two things with that one scene.

    Off to copy and paste.

    Thank you so much.


  2. Hey Julie,

    this is great stuff, it’s taken me a happy long while to read all the arc posts!

    Okay, I know I don’t write commercial fiction for women but it’s all the same, right?

    My question is – I want to write about a character who in my mind doesn’t “grow and change” as such, but who is more “revealed and discovered” by events.

    Is this actually the same thing, just looked at slightly differently, or is it a big difference?

    … I’m struggling to decide! 🙂

    Thanks for pointing me to your blog!


  3. Sri, I’m glad it makes sense to you. If you’ve read the book, you know there’s a similarly big scene near the end, where Jane actually confronts humiliation and failure by standing up for her co-workers against their client—hence scenario (A). It’s all been set up right from the beginning of the book, to show how she’s grown, and it arises naturally out of her character arc.

  4. Josh, thanks for visiting and for commenting! I’ll deal with your question in a separate post, if I may, probably tomorrow?

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