Character Part 4: Character Web

Character Web

You want the story you’re telling to feel connected. You want it to feel organic and whole. One way to do this, is through the “character web.”

By designing a character web, you create cohesion among your various characters. They all feel like an organic part of your story. All of them connected to one another somehow.

How do you do this?

You pick one trait that all the characters can share.

This could be one of the character traits we’ve already covered:

For instance, all of your characters could be connected by the same flaw.

Perhaps they all have intimacy issues.

Then throughout the story, you have each character demonstrate a unique version or expression of this same general flaw.

  • Unwilliness to commit.
  • Fear of loss, which causes constant anxiety, which causes problems for the relationship.
  • Needy behavior.
  • Too caught up in an idealized version their partner to see the real state of their connection.

These are all expressions of the same core flaw: intimacy issues.

Each character would have distinct and specific challenges in the story, but the baseline similarity gives the whole cast of characters a sense of belonging to the same idea, the same theme, the same story.

Or maybe you have all of your characters follow the same character arc:

It’s a coming of age story.

And through the course of the story, each character matures in their own way. This maturation will be caused by different experiences, different moments, but they’ll all come out more “grown up” in the end. This gives the characters a shared element that connects them all in a web.

Or maybe give all of your characters the same ghost:

Then you can go ahead and play out the different perspectives or opinions they all have about this shared event in their past.

Say a group of soldiers all survived the same battle. And now some guy they thought was dead, has come back for revenge.

Any character trait can be used to create a web.

It just depends on what works best for your story, what trait your really want to focus on, and which one can best be integrated into all of your characters.

But once you create that web, you’ve now given your story a powerful sense of cohesion and wholeness. A sense that everything here is a natural part of the overall story.

Character Part 2: Arc

Character Part 2: Arc

An “arc” tracks the change a character goes through from the beginning of the story to the end.

A character can’t go through an ordeal without some kind of change. It’s inevitable. And that’s what your story is, something happening, an ordeal, in the lives of your characters.

An arc is the clearly defined evolution of your character as a consequence of having gone through the ordeal.

It begins with who they were before the story began, and ends with who they are coming out the other side of it.

How do you do it?

How do you execute a character arc? There are a bunch of different ways. But the most effective and straight forward method:

Track one of your main character’s flaws and show how they learn and develop to overcome it.

Now, your story doesn’t always have to go this way:

Maybe your main character doesn’t overcome this flaw – like in a tragedy.

Or if it helps the theme of your story, maybe your main character learns to accept his flaw as a fixed part of his being. His arc is to go from fighting his nature, to accepting it as unchangeable.

There is also the rare “anti-character-arc.”
This is where your character has no real need for growth, and thus doesn’t change at all. While everything and everyone changes around them.

These are all options.

Let’s take a closer look at a simple set up:

Your main character overcoming a flaw.

First, you have to establish the flaw at the beginning of your story.
Let’s say a moral one like: racism. Your main character is a racist.

The events of your story then force this character to hang out with someone of a different race. They bond, they become friends, and finally at the end of the story the character learns that his racism is deeply flawed and must be abandoned.

He goes from racist –> to not racist.

This is a very basic model. One that we’ll get into a bit deeper when we talk about the “moral” cubby.

But for now, we can see that this example may be straight forward, but nevertheless – it’s a solid character arc. The character has changed in a concrete way, as a consequence of going through the story.

No matter the kind of arc you’re using, as long as the character starts the story one way, and ends the story another way, you’ve got yourself an arc.