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John Adamus @awesome_john
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THREAD: The line of character and arc and theme. Or: How do I make this character matter in this world I've created? #WritingCommunity #writerscommunity #ontheporch #amwriting #amediting #writercommunity #manycommunities
Let's start with some definitions.

"Character" - your main character, but could also be a secondary one.
"Arc" - the journey the character takes - emotional, physical, mental ... going from a starting state to a changed state at story's end
Theme - the takeaway for the reader
Ideally what we're creating is a character whose arc affects them and gives the reader multiple things to take away that can be (with some obvious modification) applied to their own life.

But how?
A common solution is to make the plot bigger or to amp up stakes or reward. The feeling being that if the story is "more" (more everything) it has to make a bigger connection to the audience. This isn't true.
As I said in last night's @writescast chat, more size doesn't mean more impact.

Look at the big giant blockbuster films that look splashy and sell well, but you walk out of there feeling not really very moved, and instead more saturated.
How we build better impact, how we write is to take the character and their arc and find points in the development where the reader can find themes.

Let's look at a really straightforward but non-Batman example character - let's talk about Harry Potter.
Now Harry Potter can be broken down into a few different groups of developmental issues.

He's a wizard. He's an orphan. He's relevant to a prophecy. He ages over the course of the story.

There's a lot of room for themes there, and we haven't even gotten specific with plot.
Put themes ahead of the plot. Yeah, Harry has several books to survive before he can go fight the noseless foe, but more time and space in those books is dedicated to Harry developing into Harry than a straightforward let's-go-kill-the-badguy story.
Themes like "Someone without a family and a home can find a family and a home" get established in every Hogwarts scene, every Hermoine and Ron scene, every Dursley scene ... really everything except the fight with whichever Fiennes brother it was.
The writing, the notes, the note cards, they're spaces where we can break the outline down by themes and dissect a manuscript a scene at a time to see which theme a scene connects to, and how every goal and agenda in that scene speaks to or away from that theme.
The arc in a particular book isn't just "Oh he learns this spell and deals with this terrible teacher and then ends up usually needing medical attention and getting back on the damn train" it's "what relationships does Harry further here" and "where can the reader connect?"
Too many writers will get hung up on the idea that being a wizard is the part they have to reinforce and justify to the reader. It doesn't matter if Harry chucked spells or chucked fish at a fish market at dawn, the what-he-is is so secondary. He'd still have the same themes.
Theme isn't about job or description. Theme is about how the arc a character is on can be distilled and brought to the reader's life.

So when Harry is alone and feeling the weight of not having a lot of security in his world, you emphasize that so the reader feels it too.
And the reason they feel it is because in their own life (something you the writer know nothing about), they feel that same mishmosh of feelings ... the wizard particulars don't count.

Connect themes to shared emotions and arcs to emotional experiences.
When you're wondering why themes are a big deal, and how you make them stronger in your own MS, go find the emotion you associate with the theme --

Stand up to bullies -> Courage, Being Brave, Strength (

So when you're writing the scene(S) where this matters, you lean on them
Since no arc is started and concluded in a single scene (that's not an arc that's just an action), mark your plot maps and arc maps in each scene by answering the question - What does this scene provide the _______ arc?
If (I'm making up numbers) scene 22 is where he tells Malfoy to eat peas, how does the scene fit in the arc?


Sets the relationship between characters in motion
Establishes Harry's arc progress
Confirms that peas are bad

And it's a small scene compared to others.
Your theme(s) is how the reader relates to the character on a deeper level beyond finding them cool or liking their super-specialness. That deeper level is built in a progression of scenes in the arc, so that by the time we get to the end of book there's a substantial case made.
A case made for wanting the character to persist and succeed and their successes or efforts become the reader's potential successes -- Harry stood up to that jerk, and I can stand up to mine - every story can, with work, strike that emotional gong.
The world of your story is a series of backdrops and dressings. They're nice and detailed, but they're malleable and destructible and temporary. Being a big deal in the wizarding world is nice, but it doesn't have the emotional hooks of being a teenager and navigating a world.
Always dig deeper to those emotional connectors and shared experiences so the reader can feel in addition to imagine. That's how you tether character to arc to theme. And practice it in draft after draft, scene after scene, sentence upon sentence. You can do this. /THREAD
Thanks for checking out today's thread. Again, sorry it was so late in the day. If you've got questions or comments, I'd love to hear them. And if you're wondering about the plot and arc maps, I'd be happy to talk about those too.
There are still openings on my calendar for editing and coaching and other writer development stuff, and if you don't know where to start, how about with a chat?…
For more me, check out the blog: and for Novel In A Year, check out (It's only week 2, there's still a chance to get onboard and get going)

I believe in you. Don't give up.
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