Monday, November 24, 2014

Writers' Book Review: Crafting the Character Arc by Jennie Jarvis

For those of you that don't know, I'm also a book reviewer. I review about 400 romance books a year on my sister blog, Smitten with Reading...which normally is enough to feed my need to share my love of books. But sometimes as a writer, I come across amazing craft/non-fiction research books that I may share on here. So, if you aren't a writer, just excuse this blog post. 

(Oh, but if you are one of my readers, I'd love it if you would leave reviews my books. And did you see? Amazon has new author pages. Please, go over there and favorite me as one of your authors so you get the latest emails about my new releases from Amazon.)

Crafting the Character Arc 
Author: Jennie Jarvis
My Rating: A

Story Overview:
Many writers believe once they have their basic plot points in place, their stories are destined to succeed. But many narratives fall flat between those plot points and lose their audience before the big finish. Engaging the audience and moving the story forward in every scene is the responsibility of the characters, not the plot. But while many books on the craft of writing state that characters need to be three dimensional and change, a beginning writer isn’t always sure how to turn these rather abstract ideas into concrete craft on the page.

Crafting the Character Arc offers a practical guide to character creation and development by expanding upon the concept of the character arc and creating a step-by-step guide for writers to ensure that their characters are dynamic and engaging. Using narrative examples from multiple platforms, including novels, films and games, this is the essential guide for helping writers create an active and well-defined character arc.

Crafting The Character Arc is structured in three main parts.

Part One covers the more traditional, basic approach to creating character, including personality traits, depth, secrets, goals versus emotional needs, active versus reactive protagonists, and dramatic functions.

Part Two introduces the Major Dramatic Curve, a detailed pictorial representation of a character arc and its major elements: place of rest, inciting incident, rising action, crisis point, climax and falling action/resolution.
Part Three offers practical applications of the Major Dramatic Curve. The writer is given guidance for using the curve to create a dynamic and engaging narrative work. Lastly, some variations in using the Major Dramatic Curve are explored and exceptions to the rules are addressed.

Character Arcs are a critical part of every story making this guide applicable to multiple mediums: novels, short stories, films, TV, games, plays, and Web series.

My Review:

As a obsessive reader, a lot of my writing is instinctual. I've never taken fiction or creative writing courses and definitely don't have any formal training to do what I do on a daily all. That's fine, until the book isn't working. The nice thing about those instincts is that I can usually tell when the book isn't working, too. What I can't do a lot of the time is figure out how to fix it. That's where writing craft books come in. But I'll be honest, books about writing beats or acts sound all well and good, but for me, when it comes down to my writing...I'm kind of baffled about how to apply those ideas to my books. Instinct vs. knowledge...not so easy in practical application. 

Which is why when it comes to finding a book like this one, I'm thrilled. This book is so easy to understand. EVEN I can read it and apply it to my writing. Jennie Jarvis has done an amazing job breaking down the writing process (i.e. those beats/acts) into a dramatic curve that works and is easily understandable. She uses a wide range of examples...from movies, to TV shows, to video games to show how the curve works and how to apply it to your work in progress. 

The dramatic curve that she employs (you can see the diagram of it on the cover up there) is made up of seven elements and she breaks down what needs to happen in each of those elements to get your book/story to where it needs to be. She illustrates the ideas so well through movies like Harry Potter, Pride and Prejudice, and even the not-so-great classics like Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. She even shows how to build that same plot structure within the book for sub-plots. 

It's an incredibly readable book (I read it in a day and a half and am known for never finishing non-fiction books, so that's saying something for me.) She talks about how to develop characters and push them outside their boundaries. She has some great points about protagonists vs. antagonists and how to create conflict within relationships. And as a romance writer, I really liked the point that the antagonist can actually be either your hero or heroine...what a completely revolutionary least to me where I've always considered the antagonist to be the bad guy. 

The book employs some great writing techniques and I spent the weekend running all my current works-in-progress through the plotting technique the book illustrates with very positive results. 

I definitely recommend this book!

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