Characters, like people, fight change and personal growth because it makes them feel vulnerable and can be emotionally painful. The fact is, it’s always easier to stay cocooned in the safety zone, to keep the status quo, avoiding change. When a character simply plods along, they don’t have to make hard decisions or choices that carry risk, they don’t have to go out on a limb and ACT.
The problem with doing nothing is that the character becomes stuck, never reaching out to their destiny, never truly becoming the person they were meant to be by letting go of the past and the fears that chain them.
Change is necessary for a successful character arc. Change is how our characters become stronger, more capable and confident. It’s what sparks the ability to chase after their goals, find happiness and achieve satisfaction. It’s how a character goes from being incomplete to whole.
When characters are being stubborn about change, it’s time to pull out the big guns. Using specific Pressure Points we can force them to act, opening the door to inner growth. You can’t hide from a pressure point, and that’s the beauty of incorporating them into your story. Good or bad, a character must act and in doing so, reveal who they truly are, both to readers and to themselves.
Let’s look at some pressure points:
Dangling something your character covets in front of them and then showing the inner struggle as they either accept or reject the offering is not just a way to develop the plot. Temptation will create a window into their inner strength (or weakness), shows cognitive reasoning, and reveals their values and moral beliefs. Will the character give in? Does this situation cause their moral ground to tremble? Does it show their thought process as they vacillate between giving in and staying strong? Temptation should always pressure a character and show the war going on inside them as they reach a decision.
Throwing a big challenge your character’s way, especially when it comes with high stakes, can force them to think on their feet and marshal their strengths so that their best qualities rise up. Succeed or fail, how a character behaves under pressure will say a lot about who they are at their core.
Based on the outcome of a challenge, success or failure will create a second pressure point. If successful, confidence will swell and the euphoria rush often prods them to take on further challenges as they realize they were stronger and more capable than they previously believed. If they fail, it forces reflection, bringing their shortcoming and flaws to light as well as the realization that they must change or adapt in some way to see a better outcome.
This pressure point is another valuable contributor to both story and character development. Any character who fails (either themselves or others) will see stakes in a new light moving forward and the challenge becomes personal. To avoid another negative outcome, their passion and determination flares as they seek to prove that they are up to the task, and therefore worthy. This desire for achievement opens them to changing in ways that will help them tackle a problem or crisis from a place of strength.
Do you use these or other pressure points to push your hero to evolve, hitting the high notes of Character Arc? Let me know in the comments!
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Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, international speaker and co-author of several bestselling writing books, including The Emotion Thesaurus. She loves building communities and her newest project, One Stop For Writers, is a powerhouse online library like no other, filled with description and brainstorming tools to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can also find her on Twitter, Facebook and at her website, Writers Helping Writers.
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