Character Arc

In three weeks, Al, my husband, is retiring from his career of 40+ years in the same building, with the same company. We’ve been married 35 years, so as long as I’ve known him, he has gone to his job every day. In that time, I’ve changed jobs six times. What this means is that I am not good at working for others. I dislike anyone having authority over me. Al is the opposite. He thrives in his work community and the bosses love him.

How will this play out in real life for us when he is finally home and does not have a place to go to that makes him feel secure, special, important and needed? His job does all of that, because he’s made himself valuable to the company through the years. Now I’m going to have to help him find similar rewards in retirement. I know it’s really up to him, but what’s a spouse for if not support and love? I gotta be there for him.

Books demand the same thing. You gotta be there for the book every day for many days, many hours of every day. Unlike Al, I take a day off writing once or twice a week, but it’s kind of like eating sugar. If you eat sugar one day, the next day you’ll want it again. If I take a break from writing one day, the next day it’s easier to take another break. Then another. So for me, I need to write (almost) every day or I lose the flow of the novel.

I have only recently realized the full extent of what a big deal this is, for both of us. Before this realization, I assumed Al would be like me, happy to be away from the grind, better as the boss of his own life, a better life having fun (finally!) with me. And he still might surprise me. He has so many projects he’s put off over the years, begging for him to start. Being together as a couple is the biggest project of all. Al has more often than not worked six or seven days a week.

We are in for a major adjustment. Ironically, my main character is in the midst of an even bigger adjustment. Her husband died unexpectedly and she went off the rails a bit, retiring from a job she loved, selling her house, moving from Detroit to Florida. She’s really not dealing with any of it, because, well, there’s a murder she has to help solve.

I set my deadline to finish this book as December 31, 2019. That’s Al’s retirement date. Three weeks. And I just finished my final chapter. Should be perfect timing. Except. I just chopped 20K from my manuscript. Why? Because they were boring. They didn’t move the plot forward or build character arc. In fact, my character’s arc is flat. I have not yet gotten to the heart of my character’s inner story, which has a major effect on her outer world.

How can an arc be flat, you may wonder. Well, it’s called avoidance. My character has some difficult changes to adjust to, kinda like I do in my own life. Many of them involve dismantling her former idea of what her life had been. She got some things wrong and now she needs to fix them so that her life can go on, better than before. That’s character arc. For a book to be satisfying (at least to me) a character has to grow, change, and learn something about herself during the course of the novel.

I pretty much skipped those parts. I write crime novels and my focus has been on the murder and whodunnit. I’m not sure I’ll write another 20K words in three weeks. I’m not even sure my character’s arc plus the subplot around it (which I also gave short shrift) needs to be 20K. I won’t know until I write it. The book will be as long as it needs to be for me to get that satisfaction of my character gaining wisdom and being happier for it.

Maybe writing my character’s arc will help me with my own major life change. Wish me luck! And have a happy holiday season.