Looking over my shoulder (or… how life changes)


The traffic light was slow to change. I waited, impatient to get across the street and to my meeting. Ahead of me two young men also waited, black backpacks slung over their shoulders. Prior to the Boston bombing I wouldn’t have looked twice at them. Now…? When we reached the other side and they moved away, I peered back over my shoulder to check where they’d gone.


It was silly, I know, but instinctive. As our world changes, so also does human behaviour. Events 4,000 or 5,000 kilometres away may not directly impact us, yet they alter how we think. Then again, so does life in general. We are not exactly the same people today that we were yesterday, nor the same as we will be tomorrow. It’s called growth.

In our novels it’s called the Character Arc.

In PLOT VERSUS CHARACTER, Jeff Gerke points out that in some novels, notably mysteries, the main character may remain unchanged, because the story is all about the plot and how it unravels. In most other genres, however, the story is about how the main character is affected by the plot. Jeff suggests the Character Arc should have five distinct parts:

  1. Initial Condition
  2. Inciting Incident
  3. Escalation
  4. Moment of Truth
  5. Final State

A static character will be flat, despite all the personality quirks we may give him. If we want him to come alive for our readers, he has to be challenged by something that requires him to reason and react. Inevitably he must encounter obstacles and/or discoveries that will change him either physically, mentally or emotionally.

Do you consciously develop a pattern of change for your character as you plan your stories? Do you evaluate during revisions whether or not you achieved an effective character arc? In your opinion, how important is such change in a short story compared to a novel?

~  ~  ~


Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

3 thoughts on “Looking over my shoulder (or… how life changes)

  1. My protagonist begins with change. It may or may not immediately impact his life, but gradually he becomes changed where he even notices. I like stories like that, so I’m apt to write them. As for Boston, I don’t know if I could manage after experiencing something so devastating. I’ve always had a problem shedding the affects of bad happenstance. It’s a burden. I find myself trying desperately not to notice what’s going on there. I didn’t watch any of the specials, or concentrate on what news they had on the victims. I can’t seem to shake those images otherwise, so I’ve learned to turn away. I worry that it makes me seem cold, though.

  2. Hi Carol –

    I’m a Seat-of-the-Pants writer. Plotting/outlining does not enter into the picture. My characters seem to grow of their own accord. I do like Jeff Gerke and have read many of his tips. Perhaps I’ve picked them up subconsciously. 🙂


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