How to Write Character Arcs in a Series [Novel Boot Camp 3]

Creating strong character arcs in a series presents some specific and unique challenges. In this video I explain a couple of different methods for handling a character arc in a series (even if you’re a pantser!).


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Comment Question: Do you like to plan the whole series in advance or figure it out as you go?

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11 thoughts on “How to Write Character Arcs in a Series [Novel Boot Camp 3]

  1. Rick Sherman says:

    Great food for thought (excuse the cliche’). I hadn’t thought about writing a sequel, but as I’m writing my current MS, I see a sequel forming on it’s own. I love the idea making a “belief” as the character arc, and that’s kind of the way it’s going. Thanks again, Ellen. You rock!!

  2. vanessafowler says:

    My husband and I watched this video together; he was so impressed with the depth of your information. Now he understand why I value your input so much. You are amazing at this, Ellen!

    Anyway, if only I had the capacity to finish outlining my first book, then maybe I would have the courage and stamina to take on an entire series. Who knows? It’s fun to dream! In the meantime, this video was inspiring and thought provoking…now back to outlining (outlining is definitely the best way for me).

  3. Blake says:

    Great video as always! I somewhat enjoy figuring out the series as I go, though I definitely have a clear direction.

  4. Abs says:

    Incredibly inciteful. Thank you. Building up character development around a belief system as well as a flaw will be an incredibly useful tool to mapping out the plot outline for my series.

  5. iiporpammep says:

    Hello, I’ve thought that after a lot of books I know everything, but your video gave me two insights(about different beliefs arcs in every book in a series and about basing these beliefs on the main character actions in the previous book), thank you.
    Could you please answer these questions:
    0) What is the fundamental difference between flaw and beliefs? Flaw must damage other people?

    1) Is arc based on a belief strong enough to engage the reader?
    For example these beliefs:
    everybody will betray you no matter what, all aristocrats are bad and spoiled.

    2) If in first book character overcomes his flaw and finds the truth(so at the end of the book he is dramatically different), but in next books, he doesn’t change, but with his truth changes world and people around. Will the reader be okay with this (you said in the video that we don’t want to change character so much between books, so they don’t recognizable)? Maybe readers will expect radical changes in next books too? And disappointed with no change in the main character.
    For example:
    The character is a prince in the first book, but he is cruel/selfish. And after his downfall in the start of the first book he changed and became compassionate. So in next books, he must change his kingdom and help citizens, and he knows that all he must do is to be compassionate even to inferior people.

    3) The same as 2, but in next books, the main character changes his beliefs.
    For example:
    The same as 2 example, but character thought that after he overcame his flaw and became the king, he could easily change his kingdom, but when he tried he discovered that his government is full of corrupt people and he had to deal with them. In the third book when now he had his friends in the government he thought that cause they were his friends that they wouldn’t betray him, but when another kingdom attacks his, friends betrayed him.

    4) Is it a good idea: If a trilogy has overall character arc based on flaw + every book has an arc with different beliefs? At what moment in the trilogy character then must overcome his flaw, in the middle of the second book, or in the middle-end of the third?

  6. bruinsmap says:

    With my novel there is a heroine and an “ambiguous” hero. A series never occurred to me as part of the original idea. But I realised that dynamic gives options for sequels.

    So that thought has altered their emotional and intimate interactions. And in fact increases their personal tensions (positive and negative) which I hope overall has a positive effect on the story. And you can create a dynamic that gives a reason for them to be together again in a sequel.

    But them living “happily ever after” together at the end of book one isn’t going to make them joining forces again in a sequel that easy. You do not want to start the second book…”They didn’t know what went wrong and why the distance grew. The divorce was a shock to both of them”. But you do see that and it is pretty lame. It is dishonest, selling literary snake oil in book one.

    The danger of longer arcs is losing both the motivation and actually knowing where you are. Also writers evolve just as much as their characters. Tying yourself to a longer plot at the beginning could cause you issues when all those new and wonderful ideas jump into your brain. And also as your writing matures.

    Perhaps give yourself a framework in the first book, but do not tie yourself in a straitjacket for seven books?

    However of course there is Harry Potter, the subject of my next comment.

  7. bruinsmap says:

    I will be honest, I hate Harry Potter. I have the same things thrown back at me… “What do you know? She is a billion dollar author etc… etc…”. I don’t venture this opinion often, and certainly not to Potter fans (I am happy when anyone reads a book.) But my opinion may have some “value” here.

    I read the first 3 books to my son, and got half way throw the fourth. Before we both had had enough.

    My feeling through the series was one of manipulation. The reader was being manipulated.

    The books were getting longer for essentially the same plot time-frame and settings. And the reader was being led by the nose to the next, and the next, and the film, and the merchandise.

    And once you think you are Toto and can see behind the velvet curtain the magic is lost. Interestingly my son lost interest in Potter, and we moved onto other books.

    This is a very personal thing. I am perhaps one in a 100 who doesn’t like the books (having actually read many of them.)

    Perhaps again just be conscious of the feeling of manipulating your reader. Rowling is a genius, not in her writing style, but in her ability to craft an expanding commercial universe (and I have no problem with that.)

    Of course Potter is catergorised as a children’s book.

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