KP Book Review: Creating Character Arcs

Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story Structure, Plot, and Character Development by K.M. Weiland

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

According to Writer’s Digest, K.M. Weiland runs one of the top one hundred writing sites, and she spends a lot of time on her blog giving advice to writers. Since I’ve followed her blog and read her books for several years now, I had high expectations for her latest book on fiction writing.creating_character_arcs

But with this book, Weiland matched and even surpassed my expectations.

In Creating Character Arcs, Weiland delves into the art of crafting character arcs and structuring a story around the protagonist’s character arc in a way that leads to deep themes. As Weiland points out, one of the key benefits of a strong character arc is how it unifies the story. Plot and character are too often viewed as opposing forces. However, as Weiland writes:

“Nothing could be farther from the truth… Plot structure and character arc are integral to one another.”

With this in mind, Weiland describes how plot and character ought to align in order to create a thrilling character arc. She focuses on the positive character arc because it’s the most common one in literature and the one on which all other character arcs are based. In her study, she explains how a thematic arc is a war between a lie and a truth that a character must choose between, demonstrates how the truth can overcome the lie in the course of a novel, and uses a plethora of examples to show these principles in action.

Although she primarily concentrates on the positive character arc, she also discusses the flat and negative character arcs. Her threefold division of the negative arc is particularly helpful. As she explains, negative character arcs are derived from the positive character arc, and once you understand the positive character arc, you can more easily comprehend its variants.

I expected that the writing advice this book offers would be golden. What I didn’t expect was how much Weiland ties the character arc to the truths of human nature. The idea of a character arc isn’t just central to fiction. It’s a fundamental fact of human psychology, and Weiland expounds on this:

“Humans are survivors. We’ll do anything we can to move toward life, comfort, and peace. But we’re also self-destructive. We can focus so tightly on one aspect of survival that we sacrifice other elements… In other words, we lie to ourselves. But there’s always a reason for that lie.”

Because people always have reasons for telling themselves lies in real life, we as authors need to mimic this with our characters. We won’t be able to portray our characters convincingly until we understand their internal justification for the lies they believe. Weiland therefore not only unveils how to write powerful character arcs, but also strikes at the core of human wants and desires. Weiland is a Christian, and although she never mentions God, the influence of a Christian worldview emerges throughout the work.

I cannot recommend Weiland’s book enough. The book fulfills everything it promises and more, and I am sure it will become one of my regular writing resources when I’m plotting out a story. For anyone who wants to learn more about writing themes and compelling character arcs, this book comes with my highest recommendations.

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Josiah DeGraaf is a high school English teacher and literature nerd who fell in love with stories when he was young and hasn’t fallen out of love ever since.
He writes because he’s fascinated by human motivations. What causes otherwise-good people to make really terrible decisions in their lives? Why do some people have the strength to withstand temptation when others don’t? How do people respond to periods of intense suffering? What does it mean to be a hero?
These questions drive him as a reader, and they drive him as a writer as well as he takes normal people, puts them in crazy situations (did he mention he writes fantasy?), and then forces them to make difficult choices with their lives.
Someday, Josiah hopes to write fantasy novels with worlds as imaginative as Brandon Sanderson’s, characters as complex as Orson Scott Card’s, character arcs as dynamic as Jane Austen’s, themes as deep as Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s, and stories as entertaining as Wayne Thomas Batson’s. In the meantime, you can find him writing articles here or short stories at his website (link below) as he works toward achieving these goals.
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  1. Yes, this lady has some awesome stuff. Great review; thanks Josiah. 🙂

  2. I’ve taken Katie’s course on character arcs, but I’ve been contemplating getting this book as a handy reference. Her instruction is excellent.

    • Nice! I watched the first preview video of her course, and it seems like this book is very similar to the video scripts for that course, but has less information than the course has. Either way, I can certainly attest that it’s helpful to have a physical book to flip through when trying to review different concepts.

  3. Okay, I NEED this book. 😛

  4. *adds yet another book to my list*

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