Characters’ Emotional Arcs, Quick Thoughts

I had a frustrating but informative (and helpful) experience this afternoon while attempting to fix my plotting problems for the sequel to Barium Deep. After I had resolved multiple problems with my plot arcs, charting them out for my own clarity and future reference, I couldn’t plot one of the emotional character arcs that I wanted for Cesium (the POV character for the second book).

I wasn’t doing anything very complicated, just tracking some of the beats for the specific section of storyline that I wanted to follow. That made my struggles all the more obvious.

Minutes before, I’d plotted out a parallel series of arcs for a totally different story; they’d flowed easily, and made good sense. They were simple, straightforward, and very formulaic—which felt fine for the first pass on an idea that came to me last night. I’m sure that they’ll change and become more interesting once I’ve worked more with that story. If they don’t, I might discard the story or put it on ice.

But those arcs, with their clear points of conflict, transformation, and growth, had come so easily that my difficulty with Cesium was glaring.

A brief aside: the idea that came to me last night dealt with using magic (or something similar) as a manifold metaphor for anger, and perhaps war and military service, with weaker connections to violence and abuse.

The physical plot for Cesium felt simple and straightforward. It fit neatly within the expected bounds of adventure fiction and other upper middle grade stories. Even though I know I’ll change it in a heartbeat if I find something else more emotionally and thematically compelling, it feels good to have laid it out. The problem with Cesium’s emotional arc was that I was (and still am) unsure of what approach I want to take, or how to zero in on Cesi’s changes in ways that will feel rewarding without feeling too neat or pat.

I think it comes down to disliking the pattern of total character transformation that I’ve seen in some middle grade stories. I find incomplete transformation more rewarding, because of how it allows individuals to face their struggles as slightly modified versions of themselves rather than as different people. This fractional shift of self is less important when a story covers a long period of time, as more shift can occur without seeming too abrupt. But when I want a reader to follow a character’s emotional shift from A to B, I feel it helps to highlight the ways the character is still uncomfortable / unfamiliar with their new experience at B. At some point they’ll feel comfortable in the new experience, and that will be cool, but if the story is about them facing that experience I want facing it to be dramatic, tense, uncertain.

The upside of all this is that I think I’m closer to a working draft of Cesium’s story. But I clearly still have more work to do.

More Barium: 9/6

This one’s a bit short. As before, it picks up immediately after where the last one left off.

Enjoy!

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More Barium: 9/5-6

This continues my pattern of giving you enough to wish you had more. If you were expecting that to change, well… I’m sorry. The previous entry can be found here, this continues immediately from the last segment.

Enjoy!

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More Barium: 9/5

Here you go, a little more of Barium and Cesium for you. Same deal as usual, it picks up immediately after where it left off last time. Enjoy!

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More Barium: 9/4-5

Whoops! Nearly let this one get away from me. Same deal as usual, more rough material that picks up immediately from the last post.

Enjoy!

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More Barium: 9/4

At some point soon I might start giving you material from the second draft instead of continuing this. There are so many changes being made! A lot of them are small, but they add up. And, of course, there are a few big ones. Regardless, this rough material follows from the last post just like usual. Enjoy!

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More Barium: 9/3-4

You know how it goes. This “hot and fresh” first draft material picks up immediately from the last post, and is already almost obsolete. The new version of this scene, still only in my head, has a lot of the same trappings but feels quite different. I’m looking forward to sharing it with you too.

Until then, enjoy this!

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More Barium: 9/3

Like I said last time, this is all getting rewritten right now. It continues immediately from the last installment. Enjoy!

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More Barium: 9/2-3

I’ve got more things for you, but I have to say: at this point all this material (and everything you’ve already seen so far) is currently being edited. I think some themes will carry over, and some details will, but a good deal of it is going to be totally rewritten. Which is good, because it feels clumsy on my repeated read-throughs.

That said, this picks up immediately after where the last section left off. Enjoy!

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More Barium: 9/2

The Barium Deep continues, with a smaller installation for today. This follows from the last bit. Enjoy!

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