Tuesday, November 1, 2011


“A my name is Abby and my husband’s name is Adam. We live in Alabama and we sell apples.”

This popular children’s rhyme/jump rope song tells the simplest of stories. It identifies the characters, tells where they live and what they do. But it doesn’t provide any action or character development.

As writers, we need to illustrate a story arc. Our plot has to go from point A to point B. We can’t just write about “nothing.” In contemporary, mainstream romance, that story arc is usually girl meets boy, girl and boy fall in love, girl and boy face some conflict that separates them for a while and finally, girl and boy solve the conflict and live happily ever after.

In addition to story arcs, there are character arc. Our characters have to progress, to change, to develop. Similar to the way our children develop, but in warp speed. Is our heroine selfish? Why? What made her that way and how can we show her to become more selfless, less selfish by the time the story ends so that she and her hero can end up together? Is our hero commitment-phobic? Why? What made him that way and how can we show him change his attitude in a believable way so that he and the heroine end up together?

In order to have an arc, we have to know the “why.” What makes our heroes and heroines tick? What motivates them to become better people? What was in their background that makes them who they are? There has to be a reason for our plot as well. As real people, we may plod along in our lives, but no one wants to read about that. Readers want our plots to move forward so that they can be entertained.

By combining our character motivation with our plots we can hopefully tell a compelling story. By making sure our characters progress, that they identify and solve a problem, we keep our readers engaged. That’s what makes a good story.


  1. A good summary, Jen. Getting the story arc right is often easier than the character arcs. But you're right that they need to be seen to make some kind of 'progress' during the story.

  2. Last thing I want, Paula, is to read about characters whose lives are as "boring" as mine! ;)

  3. You have an action-packed life, with all your activities, but I know what you mean. Readers need to be taken into a believable 'land-of-make-believe' which, although it sounds like it, isn't actually a contradiction as far as romance novels are concerned.

  4. Great post, Jennifer. We're off to a good start with our alphabet series.

    A fellow Chicago-North member gave a program to our chapter once on character and story arcs. She used the movie "Pretty Woman" as an example to show how the characters' goals evolved and changed throughout the course of the movie as the plot went through it's various 'movements'. It was really a great example of what you're talking about.

  5. "Why" is definitely the most important question. I think that sometimes, I forget my characters' motivations when I write. Nice reminder.