One of the questions I’m receiving regularly since writing Nail Your Story and creating the Outlining Challenge goes something like this:
I have a question about the rough markers for plot plots (25%, 50%, 75%, 90%) etc. Do these percentages apply to the BOOK or to the CHARACTER ARC?
That is, if character A is in 8 scenes, is his decision/choice to go at the end of HIS second chapter OR at page 50 of a 200 page book?
There are two parts to this question, so let’s break it down.
Part 1 – Should Character Arcs Follow Conventional Story Structure Plot Points?
Yes, I would always map plot points per character arc, first.
Because major characters in books need to go through some sort of transformation by the end of the book, and readers get upset if this transformation isn’t resolved.
Part 2 – How Do We Then Reconcile Multiple Character Arcs With One Set of Book Plot Points?
Story structure gets complicated as you write more complex stories with multiple POVs. You can have multiple character arcs per book, and each character might have his own story arc. So how do you manage that against the common 4-part story structure with all of its plot points? Where does each character’s arc map onto the book’s traditional plot points?
This piece is a little complicated! And it’s confusing, right? This took me a long time to understand, but what I’ve learned on this are that there are two basic approaches:
#1 – Pick a protagonist and make his character arc the main book arc as well
Any additional character arcs are essentially sub-plots. Also, you want to protagonist to be the hero of the story.
This is how probably the majority of novels are written.
#2 – Have the 25%, 50%, 75%, etc. marks be big plot points from multiple character/group arcs.
This is a little harder to pull off, but worked really well for the book/movie called The Martian. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that although Mark Watney is the protagonist, a good portion of the movie (especially the back half) is actually major plot points from other character/group arcs. The story is primarily 3 “character” arcs:
– Mark Watney
– the NASA team
– Mark Watney’s space crew
There are definitely huge pauses in Mark Watney’s story arc where people on earth are trying to figure out something to move the plot forward.
A lot of the time this is easiest when you have a central character who’s arc can be the big turning points for the book, too. But again, it’s flexible. Play with it to see what works. As long as you understand story structure, you can feel the flow of the book at a high level through the outline and beats!
If you want to learn more about plotting character arcs vs. your book’s plot arc, the best way to dive deep is to take the Outlining Challenge.
You can learn more about the Outlining Challenge here:
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