THE EGGSHELL HERO – How to build a story upon a dramatic character arc

cracked statue

All good stories must have a plot — a sequence of events that is logical, inevitable, and relentlessly propells the story (and reader) forward.

Mostly, the plot is external action. But sometimes—and literary writers will nod vigurously here—the plot is internal, and barely accompanied by grand outward action. Instead, it’s made of incremental revelations, decisions, and reflections, all leading toward a catharsis or tragedy.

If you ever thought creating and keeping an action plot tight was hard, the internal plot is much harder. Not that it’s tough work that requires a genius with 10 MBAs, but it’s just so much more prone to mistakes and slips. It’s super easy to slide into endless monologues and reflections that accomplish nothing.

So how to create an internal plot? How to outline a whole story based on just one character’s internal life?

I think a good start is to stay with proven story structure tentpoles, and weave a character arc in between them.

Here’s how my tired brain fleshed this out in a brainstormy splatter. Male pronoun for no good reason.

If you have any questions (because I haven’t written this in the most explanative way), the comment section’s all yours. 🙂

 

ACT I

A storm brews in the distance. Cold winds begin to blow.

He’s out in the open, startled maybe, but unconcerned. Minding his business.

> Tiny old cracks are visible in the shell.

That’s fine. Everyone has them. They’ll make it through bad weather, as they always have.

The winds suddenly shift, get stronger.

> The first shard comes off — we see blood.

He’s worried now, but does what he’s always done: covers it up. Moves on.

 

ACT II

The storm begins in earnest.

The winds are lashing at him. Debris begins to fly. The sky is darkening.

> More shards are falling. He fails to put them back. The wounds grow bigger.

Everything that used to work before, doesn’t. He’s quickly thrown out of his comfort zone, and the storm keeps growing like hell unleashed. 

> The whole shell blasts off and reveals a beating, bleeding heart.

Reveal the full extent of the devastating damage. Reveal his utmost vulnerability. Force him to acknowledge it, then

> Stab that heart

He’ll crash and crumble, and lose all hope. No way back, and no good options going forward.

From deep inside the cracks, his darkest nightmares crawl out, unleashed.

He lets them go.

> Nothing left to lose now

Laid open and bare, he’s nothing but his CORE SELF now, no more shells, no ghosts, no tender flesh.

Only volition.

Time to fight back.

 

ACT III

Face the storm and all the monsters it brought out into the open.

> Lash out and fight with tooth and nail

He does the unthinkable, that ALL-OR-NOTHING deed he’d otherwise never been able to — the only thing that can make a difference now. 

And succeeds.

> He stands on the shards of his old self, a new man

As the winds abate. And nothing will ever be the same.

6 Replies to “THE EGGSHELL HERO – How to build a story upon a dramatic character arc”

  1. Somehow I cannot relate MBA and Genius. Eh?
    Taking the reader through he emotions, action – in a way that can keep the attention.
    Not easy – many books I have put down after a while, for never to pick up again. It was easier when I was a kid. No expectation. No prejudgement based on previous books and stories.

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    1. Character arc based stories are definitely tougher to write than plot based ones, and must work that much harder to keep the reader engaged. That’s why so many fail at doing that, and those that work, work really well.

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      1. Like the term: brainstormy splatter.
        I have read many books where the story, the characters has been the same from start to end – and only the story, the plot was doing the work. And some where not only a plot, where many characters interacted and changed – and it creates so much more.
        Unfortunate, some stories I have stopped to read when a good person turned bad – my personal issue.
        And some of the best sci fic I have read/watched are those where Politicians turns out to be the read bad characters, and not the aliens who want to destroy the world and kill everyone.
        I think I fail to see one story where politicians has changed to the better – but plenty where aliens changed.

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