Writing Children's Books For Dummies
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A character arc is just a simple visual tool to help you chart out your children's book character’s development. Her driving desire must be made clear from the start.

The changes your main character makes in her life can be drawn into this arc so you can see how she drives the action as the story starts, then something occurs that requires action, then her plight reaches a climax, and finally she heads toward resolution.

You use a character arc by assigning different points of your character’s development to the different dots; this helps ensure that your character goes through enough changes and struggles to make her and her story compelling. Here’s a summary of the steps that characters tend to face:

When we first meet your main character her driving desire is made clear (ascent begins), she has something happen to rock her world/challenge her reality (steeply ascending), she has to deal with it (ascending further), she fails (peak), she tries some more and fails (dips then peaks even further), she hits a seeming stalemate (flatline, but not for too long), she figures it out (begins descending), she hits a bump but instead of reverting back to old solution(s) tries out new one (further descending), and she ends a changed and ideally better person after all (fully descended).

Take the old-fashioned story of Cinderella and apply it to the arc shown in the figure:

  1. You first meet your main character her driving desire is made clear (ascent begins):

    Cinderella is a happy, well-adjusted girl living a privileged life when her father remarries and brings a stepmother and two sisters into her life — all three of whom detest her. Show Cinderella as sweet and trying to cope, a girl who is confused but still has her father watching her back. Make clear her desire to be considered an equal and equally beloved member of the family.

  2. She has something happen to rock her world/challenge her reality (steeply ascending):

    Cinderella’s father dies, leaving the poor girl at the mercy of the merciless stepmother and stepsisters, a veritable black sheep. Cinderella tries to stay her course, but fails to move these women whose abuse of her escalates.

  3. She has to deal with it (ascending further):

    Cinderella still uses her same old way of coping (being sweet and working hard to avoid the reality of her situation), but the abuse gets worse.

  4. She fails (peak):

    Cinderella fails to stand up for herself, and she ends up a scullery maid in her own home. Time for a change, but is she strong enough?

  5. She tries some more and fails (dips, and then peaks even further):

    Cinderella and everyone else in the household are all excited over the upcoming ball and is getting ready to attend. Cinderella again resolves to put a happy face on her situation, but she is thwarted and is unable to attend the ball.

  6. She hits a seeming stalemate (flatline, but not for too long):

    The fairy godmother helps her attend the ball. Cinderella rises to the occasion, dazzling all attendees, including the prince, but has to run out of the ball at the last minute, leaving a slipper. So she’s back to where she started: in rags, with no prospects.

  7. She figures it out (begins descending):

    Cinderella decides that she is going to get a chance to try on that slipper no matter what her stepsisters, who may suspect her involvement with the prince, say or do.

  8. She hits a bump but instead of reverting back to old solution(s) tries out new one (further descending):

    Cinderella gets locked in the cellar when the prince arrives, but instead of accepting her fate with a smile and cleaning even harder, Cinderella alters her driving desire, gets wise, and fashions a way to break out in time.

    Eventually, she gets hitched — thus fulfilling her desire to be loved, but creating a chosen family instead of the stinky one she inherited. Wiser and back to her old position and privilege, readers have to see how she uses her power.

  9. She ends a changed and ideally better person after all (fully descended):

    Although she could have her stepmother and stepsisters thrown into a dungeon from where they would never ascend (or worse), Cinderella opts to take the higher road and allows them to live.

A character arc is just a fancy way of making sure your character has grown and changed throughout the course of the story.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Lisa Rojany is a writer and publishing professional. Lisa has her own company, Editorial Services of L.A., for writers of fiction and nonfiction.

Peter Economy is a Wall Street Journal best-selling business author and ghostwriter with more than 125 books to his credit, including multiple For Dummies titles.

Bob Nelson (San Diego, CA) is founder and president of Nelson Motivation, Inc., a management training and consulting firm based in San Diego, California. As a practicing manager and a best-selling author, he is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of employee recognition, rewards, motivation, morale, retention, productivity, and management. He is author of the bestselling book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (Workman) — which has sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide — and coauthor of the best-selling book Managing For Dummies, 2nd Edition, with Peter Economy (Wiley), as well as 18 other books on management and motivation.
Bob has been featured extensively in the media, including television appearances on CNN, CNBC, PBS, and MSNBC; radio appearances on NPR, USA Radio Network and the Business News Network; and print appearances in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and many more. He writes a weekly column for American City Business Journals and a monthly column for Corporate Meetings & Incentives, among others.
Dr. Nelson received his PhD in management from The Peter F. Drucker Graduate Management Center of Claremont Graduate University in suburban Los Angeles, and received his MBA in organizational behavior from The University of California at Berkeley. For more information on products and services offered by Nelson Motivation, Inc. — including speaking or consulting services — call 800-575-5521. Visit Bob at his Web site: www.nelsonmotivation.com.

Peter Economy (La Jolla, CA) is a freelance business writer and publishing consultant who is associate editor of the Apex award-winning magazine Leader to Leader, and coauthor of the best-selling book Managing For Dummies, 2nd Edition, with Bob Nelson (Wiley), Giving Back with Bert Berkley (Wiley), The SAIC Solution with J. Robert Beyster (Wiley), as well as the author or coauthor of more than 30 other books on a wide variety of business and other topics. Visit Peter at his Web site: www.petereconomy.com and be sure to check out his Free Book Project at: www.booksforfree.org.

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