Every character in a story travels a path that defines who they are, what they want and how they will go about getting it. That ARC establishes who they are, what their values may be and how they will go about getting what they want.
A character can have different ARCS for different wants and needs. For instance, your character may have his, or her, pre-book ARC. Maybe it goes something like:
START: Heroine moves to a new town at age 10 and has no friends. She quickly becomes the target of “popular” kids. Our heroine is miserable, lonely and hates her new town. She turns inward and focuses all her energy on her studies.
MIDDLE: Heroine wins a prestigious high school science award. She skips grade twelve and goes start to an Ivy League school.
END: Heroine finds that even Ivy League there are cliques and troublemakers. She once again turns inward, focusing on her education and research.
Now, using some of this background we can build our heroine’s story ARC for the book:
START: Heroine is a loner. To the outside word, she is driven and focused on her work. While she truly loves her work, no one knows that’s a shield to keep her from being hurt by other people. After she makes a major scientific discovery that propels her not only to the top of her field, but makes her an internet and news session, Heroine returns to her childhood home to escape the publicity.
MIDDLE: Heroine makes friends. Popular girl is no longer the center of any group, in fact she desperately needs a friend. Heroine steps in to fill that void. She also makes other friends in town. She is offered a position at a university nears town, will she stay or go?
END: Heroine finds a place and a group where she can fit in. She begins a new research project, but this time with a personal cheering squad waiting when she comes home.
Knowing what we do about our heroine, we can begin to come up with some story ideas, some ways to throw a monkey wrench into her life and build conflict. We can also begin to unravel what our character wants most in her life. We know what she fears (having no friends), what she wants (to fit in), and what she does when she wants to avoid being hurt (digs into her work).
Using what you now from these story arcs, can you come up with a story for a scenario for this heroine?
YOUR HOMEWORK: Think about your main character and create an ARC for their life, their goals and their story. Don’t worry about filling it all in, just start letting the creative juices flow and you’ll find you are learning more and more about your character. Use those tidbits to build a multidimensional person that readers will warm to and want to follow along on a journey.