Depending on the type of story, the timeline of a character’s arc process varies. For my particular WIP based on three sisters overcoming the onset of major life changes, the present-day part of the story only takes place over a weekend where they all attend their grandmother’s 80th birthday party.
Although I plan to incorporate certain elements of backstory in the form of triggered memories and dialogue, each woman will need to come to terms with the changes she needs to make by the end of the story.
My question is how do I do this in a realistic way? I can show some of the progress leading up to their “moment of truth” (literally they are all keeping secrets about their fears in light of the changes they are facing). Or I can set up this moment so that it points toward a series of sequels where each sister faces her fears and either fails or succeeds in overcoming the changes.
Essentially, I’m picture the “arc” as more of the process leading to the “aha” moment — the moment where each woman realizes how her past choices led her to what she fears, and how she decides to face her fears in her own way. For each woman, her process of realization and acceptance will need to be different, and each will still have to move forward in a unknown future facing her fear by the end of the book.
After working through the why and how of the wounds each sister has experienced and how those wounds have molded her into the person she is at the start of the story (thanks to the wonderful resource The Emotional Wound Thesaurus and related thesauruses and online tools available at One Stop for Writers) — I was able to pinpoint the possible catalyst that could form the plot/character arc possibilities as each sister faces her fears and attempts to overcome her past wounds.[clear]
Of course, once I start fleshing out all of my ideas and scenes during NaNoWriMo 2017, this could all change! But for now I’m excited and inspired by the process of digging deeply into the backstory of each of my characters. Until now, I had not intended on making this particular work a series, but can I see how a series could help me develop a realistic arc that really only begins at the end of the first book.
What about you? Have you explored the timeline of your character’s arc? Does your story take place over a short or long period of time? How do you determine your arc process based on the timeline of your story?