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...