Go Into The Story | Reader Question: Do you actually plot out the Protag's Emotional Arc, or just go with your gut?

John Arends says:
2012-07-10 14:25:48

I'm going with Max and sidekick Scott on this one. And for good measure on which approach is more "professional" -- prep or gut -- let's throw in ex-marine-turned-guru-of-the-Muse Steven Pressfield and the quintessential line from his newest book, TURNING PRO.
Sayeth Steven: "Fuck the marshmellows!"
Shaula Evans says:
2012-07-10 16:34:24

I've had a number of conversations lately about protagonist arcs that people found unsatisfying, most notably the 11th hour unsupported changes from Will, the news anchor in Aaron Sorkin's new HBO series The Newsroom, in the show's first two episodes. Will barrels through the story on one emotional note, and then in the last five minutes of the show, does something radically different. There's no set-up for the change, and it comes across as implausible and unsatisfying--at least among the people I've discussed the show with.
The test: however you are writing character arcs right now, do they satisfy your audience?
If your writing method is working, great.
If your audience doesn't buy it, then consider remedies like:
- analyze scripts that demonstrate a character arc similar to what you are aiming for, and see how the transition is paced;
- go back to index cards for your own script, just for the character arc, and compare to the scripts you've analyzed;
- keep testing against reader feedback.
I read a great article this week that discussed how plot is based on the choices your protagonist makes. If you think about that in terms of emotional arc, where your character is at emotionally will determine what choices your character makes. From that perspective, character arc drives plot, and character arc development and plot development are inseparable. When you're working out your plot, however you do that, you're working out your character arc, too.
Laura Stoltz says:
2012-07-10 16:35:33

Can we say "both?" Prep first, gut second? You can prep, prep, prep a character all you want - figure out what kind of girls he wants to bang, what kind of music makes him want to strangle kittens, what food makes his nostrils flare up in a bad way - but once you put this dude in a scene, he might not say what you planned on him saying, he might not want to take mercy on that little bastard that is picking on his ginger nephew at school. Your protag might look at you and be all, "What the fuck were you thinking? I am NOT that kind of guy. I want to call this guys grandmother a whore, and you can't stop me." Or, maybe that's what you want him to do and he won't.
What was my point? Oh, right. So I see myself as God - I create these people (what they look like, who their parents are, what their big fears are,) and then put them in a sucky situation and let them go. If I don't like how they're reacting, and they don't get to where I want them to be at the end, maybe I need to flood all the things that made it feel contrived, put the things that worked out well on an Ark -(haha, get it? Ark/arc? Yeah? No? Damn.) - and rebuild a little. Make Armenius have a different flaw and see how he reacts to that beluga whale eating his favorite grocery store checkout guy NOW.
Bottom line? Both. I guess I could've just stopped with that at the beginning, but I like hearing myself talk. Write. Seeing myself write. Seeing my words typed and hearing them in my head. Where's the backspace on this fancy schmancy work Mac?
mommyfollows says:
2012-07-10 17:54:20

I don't know how anyone could write a complete story (in any medium) *and* have others be satisfied after reading it without knowing in advance what the major change in the character is going to be and how best to bring that out. That dictates the story's events to a great extent. Every single scene should point toward the ending in some way, and not just when it comes to what happens but why it happens and why the character does whatever he does. If you're not headed somewhere specific, I bet you're wandering.
Of course, you can wander if you want to, but that takes a lot longer than following a map made in advance.
Judy Potocki says:
2012-07-11 10:54:46

Max. Scott.
I'm with ya, man. Dream it. Break it. Prep it.
Onword and upword!
Karl Peter Smith says:
2013-01-23 13:33:57

Writer's Block?
BEST TIP for creating emotional arcs for minor characters in your 1st draft --
--instead of going for an obviou conflicting drama to your Protagonist -- cut out a horoscope... apply it to the SHOP ASSISTANT ... a TYPICAL SCORPIO may react differently this week to an AQUARIUS.
Shaula Evans says:
2013-01-23 13:35:38

What a great idea, Karl. I'm going to give that a try. Thank you!