May 19, 2009

Like Jello

by Valerie Ipson

I've overloaded at the books-on-writing buffet. My library card receipts will attest to all the plot, character development, grammar, point of view, ad nauseum, that I have piled on my plate, then devoured and digested. Frankly, I'm feeling bloated and I need a mental Tums.

Now, it's such a treat to find a really well-written book on writing, and even better when you have those A-HA moments that you're able to set aside in Tupperware or cover with Press-n-Seal for use later to sweeten your writing. I found one of those...

We writerly sorts always talk about character arcs, which basically means that the character shows growth from the way he/she is at the story's opening to how he/she is changed at the end. (Our Heavenly Father is looking for those same kinds of character arcs out of us.) I don't have the book in front of me, but was reminded of it from another source, so I am not quoting here...but in James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure, he talks about a concept he calls The Force Field of Character Change that can be helpful in creating satisfying "arcs." JSB says we have certain self-concepts, values, and beliefs that make up who we are. We protect these, in his words, create "force fields" around them, because if they are disturbed it puts us into a state of disequalibrium.

We have varying levels of these force fields. I drew a circle to represent them for my own use, but I won't draw one here because that would involve internet technology of some sort, so bare with me. The outer circle is opinions--these are easiest to change in someone. Next comes attitudes, followed by a person's values, then their beliefs--each harder to change than the one before it in the circle. The inner circle and hardest to penetrate is one's self-image. Human beings tend to protect that almost at any cost.

So how do we apply this to our stories and character arcs? We begin by challenging our character's opinions, then move on to their attitudes, and so on, until at the end of the book they have had their core self-concept challenged and changed.

I'm thrilled with JSB's refreshing morsel of insight. It gives me a recipe for the smorgasbord of a journey I must lay out for my character, and like jello, it goes down easy and there's always room for more...


  1. Love the jello analogy, Valerie. I read this book too but needed the refresher. Thanks!

  2. Okay, that other message was from me, Sarah Albrecht. My mother-in-law has been accessing e-mail on my computer & it has set the default identity to her. Gotta try to set it back! Ah, to be more tech-savvy!

  3. Great point. I love how there are so many books out there, because we all learn and understand so differently.
    Sometimes depending on where I'm at in my life makes it easier or harder to comprehend - but later it's crystal clear.
    Anyway...I love it when charactors grow and develop. Makes it more meaningful.
    Good luck...I love Jello, and I love more. (I suffer from the disease of more)

  4. The one thing that I too enjoy is the variety of assistance out there to help fledging writers. There's so much we don't know. I'm glad those who go before us are more than happy to share what they learned with us.

  5. Thanks so much Valerie. Excellent Blog. I am going to find Bell's book. You gave me some good things to consider!

  6. Love this info--I've been devouring lots of these writing books lately too. Love the Jello analogy too! I posted a review about the Scrapbox on my blog, if you’d like to see a pic, come visit!

  7. I enjoyed this blog, too. It struck a low blow to me, though. You see, I'm working on my own life story, and this concept seems to indicate that in order to have a book worth reading, I have to show some great change in my main character's core self-concept. Since I'm not sure I've changed much beyond the unavoidable normal growth and development demanded by still getting up every day, this seems to mean I've gotta get busy and either change my self-concept or somehow discern how it has changed. I think I'm too close to myself to see the psychological changes. Besides, I'm not sure I want to know the dismal results.

    So, I guess I'll have to just tell it like it's been, and let my tale be sadly lacking -- So much for becoming rich and famous. -- My kids will still love it.


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