11 Days & 11 Ways to Plot Your Novel: Positive, Negative, and Flat Character Arcs #NaNoWriMoPrep #amwriting

11 ways to plot a novel

11 days, 11 Ways to Plot a Novel is a series! If you’d like to begin at the beginning, start here:

Dent’s Master Plot

Well’s 7 Point Plot Structure

Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method

Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet

Gwen Hayes’ Romancing the Beat

Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey

Rider-Waite_Smith Fool’s Journey

Christopher Vogel’s Writer’s Journey

John Truby’s 22 Step Structure

The New and Improved Gary Provost Paragraph

Crafting a good character arc that is seamlessly woven into the structure and theme of your story is a fundamental skill that every author should perfect.

When done well, a character arc can highlight your character’s journey through the tests and trials that they must face to overcome their central problem. Character arcs pinpoint the inner conflict that your protagonist must confront at the climax and gives you the foundation you need to show your reader how they will overcome it. Romances, in particular are greatly improved by a strong charcater arc. The bad boy gets redeemed. The shy virgin claims his sexuality. The alphahole gets his ass handed to him and falls in love with an equally alpha woman. The tropes are favorites because the reader knows that they can expect a journey from who the character is in the beginning to who they become in the end. Readers open your book because they want to see that growth.

And for the kissing, of course.

Story structure & your character’s arc

The character arc of your protagonist should influence the plot. In a three-act plot structure, the midpoint marks a turning point in the external conflict, it should also be the culmination of your character’s first series of tests and the big truth that changes their goals. Without this shift, your character and your plot won’t move forward. This isn’t confined to the midpoint. Every plot point should correspond with a test or conflict in your protagonist’s character arc. If your heroine is tested by a difficult task at work and is reprimanded by her boss, her reaction should correspond with some shortcoming or long held belief she thinks defines her. This is true for your secondary characters as well.

There are three types of character arcs: positive, negative, and flat.

Positive and negative arcs are sometimes known as “change arcs” while flat arcs feature a character that doesn’t have any big internal shifts, but seeks to change the world around them.

Let’s start with positive arcs.

Positive arcs provide your protagonist with a story of success, overpowering the odds, and growing past their flaws. Your reader will root for this protagonist and want to see them succeed, and when they close the book, they’re left with warm and fuzzy feelings.

This one of the most common arcs and with good reason!

Positive Arcs in a Three Act Structure

Act 1: Your protagonist is introduced to the reader with a glimpse of their “normal day.” Your character begins the story in a state of discontent because they refuse to deal with or even acknowledge their central problem.

The external conflict forces your protagonist to acknowledge their central problem—either consciously or subconsciously. The inciting incident and the first plot point initiates the first initial shift that signals your character’s path to growth.

Act 2: This is where the bulk of your story (all of the kissing and sexy times) and your protagonist’s character arc occurs. A series of tests and trials, they reveal the big truth that contrasts their central problem. They can’t succeed and your story can’t move forward if your protagonist doesn’t accept it.

At the midpoint obstacle, your protagonist convinces themselves. that they’re capable of handling the central problem without acknowledging the big truth because it seems easier than confronting it. The third plot point pitches your protagonist into their dark night of the soul—the moment when the internal conflict and the external conflict conspire to break them all the way down to nothing. The antagonist seems to have won, and your protagonist is forced to choose—accept their big truth and win the day, or go back to their life of discontent, trapped by their central problem and doomed to fail at life.

Act 3: The Final Act of your story and the culmination of your protagonist’s character arc reaches its crescendo. To win the day and complete a positive character arc, it’s time to accept the big truth. The climactic moment is the final test that pushes them to overcome their central problem, shows that they have grown, and then triumph over the antagonist.

The resolution marks a new stage your protagonist’s character arc. The end should contrast the beginning of their journey and demonstrate how your protagonist’s arc has impacted their life and those around them.

Negative Character Arcs in a Three-Act Structure

The negative arc is meant to illustrate our protagonist’s unwillingness to grow.

Act 1: Your protagonist’s central problem is revealed. They struggle against it and they are presented with an opportunity to resolve it.

Act 2: This act begins the divergence of positive and negative arcs. In the positive arc, your protagonist would discover the big truth that contrasts with their central problem, in the negative character arc, your protagonist is unable or unwilling to do so. Each failure makes them retreat deeper and deeper into the the flaws and wounds that they are trying to escape.

The midpoint is the incident propels them toward the big truth, and seem to find a solution. They act on this “solution” but because they have ignored the truth. They meet a dark moment and that darkness is permanent.

Act 3: In the third and final act, your protagonist fails to triumph over the antagonist. Unable to accept the truth, they succumb to the flaws and wounds they had when they began the story. There is no chance for redemption and they embody the central problem as if it has become the only thing that defines them.

Use of positive and negative character arcs can tie important parts of your story together so that it feels cohesive. As a result, your protagonist will be an active participant in your story and feel relatable.

Flat Character Arcs in a Three-Act Structure:

Flat arcs don’t focus on character growth or change, but they serve a purpose nonetheless. The flat arc focuses on a character who has already discovered their big truth, overcome their central problem, and learned to accept it. The difference is, she must hold on to her inner truth, act on it, and share it into the world around her.

Act 1: The beginning of a flat arc introduces the community that your protagonist lives in. They often seem separate from their world. The people around them don’t understand and won’t accept the truth, which makes your protagonist’s actions foreign to them as well. Your protagonist may hide or deny the truth to shield themselves from judgment.

Act 2: This act progresses pretty much the same as a positive arc with your protagonist struggling through tests and trials. Instead of overcoming the central problem, they are putting their truth to the test and using it to resolve a variety of conflicts in order to reveal the central problem of the world around them.

The midpoint proves your protagonist’s truth by revealing key information. That doesn’t make believing this truth any easier. The third plot point is still a dark night of the soul for your protagonist. In this moment, it appears that all they worked toward is lost and they are forced to either give up or risk everything and continue. This is not an easy decision and choosing to continue means that they must make a great sacrifice.

Act 3: The flat character arc ends much the same way as the positive arc with your protagonist face to face with a final conflict based on the central truth plaguing their community or environment. Upholding this truth will move them past this problem and help them to overcome the external conflict.

The resolution focuses on the effects of your protagonist’s sacrifice and success, often offering a glimpse of how the community has healed because of your protagonist’s influence. This gives the reader an opportunity to appreciate the change.

Flat arcs are a powerful way to convey themes and alternate perspectives in the world that you have created.

Well, that’s the last 11 Days & 11 Ways entry.

It’s been a journey (pun intended) and I hope you all found some sort of benefit in it and have decided on a way to plot your book for #NaNoWriMo2018!

Happy Writing!


Sample Sunday: The Rose & The Thorn

He led her down the stairs, but instead of talking her toward the well lit pedestrian bridge, he directed his steps toward the darker end of the park at the bottom of the waterfall. Down a path that connected it to another city park, all of them part of a trail that stretched from the center of the city out to to the mountains. They strolled in comfortable silence; holding hands and sharing licks of the ice cream cone. Soon they found themselves in a remote place between the two parks. Finally feeling a bit tired from all the walking, Estelle sat on a stone wall to rest her feet. Deacon finished the last of the cone and dropped it in a nearby trashcan. He made his way back to her, licking the sticky remains off of his fingers.

“Eww. Don’t lick your fingers! Here.” Estelle dug out a pack of antibacterial wipes out of her bag, yanked one out, and proceeded to clean his hands.

A wicked smile spread across his face as she fussed over his dirty hands.

“What?” Estelle asked.

“Do you remember that time your roommate got the flu in college?” he asked.


“Dark skin? Always had those impeccable box braids?”

Estelle smiled. “Yeah. That was Monet.”

“Anyway, do you remember that time she got the flu and didn’t leave your room for a week?”

She nodded. “Which meant our time together was limited too because lord knows I wasn’t going back to your room.”

Deacon chuckled and shook his head. “It wasn’t that bad.”

“It smelled like ass, dirty socks, corn chips, and old beef jerky in there.”

“That is…very specific.”

“And hard to forget. Stepping into that room triggered my gag reflex.”

“So bougie…” he said shaking his head in faux disdain.

“Whatever. I wasn’t about to risk contracting some flesh eating staph disease from being in there.”

“Are you done? You gonna let me finish?”

“Go ahead. Finish your story,” she said.

“So we went almost eleven days without fucking when she had that

flu. I showed up at your dorm room real late one night, remember? Remember we took that walk?” He put his hands on her thighs and inched up the hem of her dress to reveal her bare knees.

Estelle parted her legs so that he could wedge himself between them and draped her arms over his shoulders. “The one that ended in some remote part of campus that I’d never been to? And you sat me on a stone wall kinda like this?”

“I did.”

“And then you kissed me and somehow convinced me to have sex in the out of doors.”

“I did that, too.”

Deacon slid his hands under her dress and up her bare thighs. Her skin pebbled under his touch.

“Not being able to make love to you for a week felt like agony back then.”

“So what changed? Why doesn’t it feel like agony now?”

Thanks for reading and happy Sunday!


11 Days & 11 Ways to Plot Your Novel: Romancing The Beat by Gwen Hayes #NaNoWriMoPrep #amwriting

Following up Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet is Romancing The Beat by Gwen Hayes

Many a romance writer swears by this plot formula and with good reason. Hayes takes everything from Snyder’s Beat Sheet and puts it into an easy to understand guide for romance authors who write shorter stories (50k words or less) and category romance. I’ve definitely found it useful for my novella-length work.

Gwen refers to her four-part structure as a journey from hole-hearted to whole-hearted.

  • Set-up
  • Falling in love
  • Retreating from love
  • Fighting for love

Each of the four parts have necessary beats that must be hit. Also, I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but all of these plot formulas start from the assumption that you already know your premise and your characters. This is especially true for Romancing the Beat.

Set-up: introduce the characters, the world, the premise, and the romantic arc.

  • Introduce Hero 1
  • Introduce Hero 2
  • Meet-cute
  • Now way 1—one or both of your heroes make an argument against falling in love.
  • Adhesion—this is where your trope should be introduced. It’s the plot point that keeps the hero & heroine tied together.

Add heading

Falling In Love: They’re perfect for each other. We (the author) know it. The readers know it. The only ones who refuse to accept it are the characters.

  • Inkling of desire.
  • Deepening desire
  • Maybe this time
  • Midpoint of love

Retreating from love: Get ready to wreck your reader and break the hearts of your characters.

  • Inkling of doubt
  • Deepening doubt
  • Retreat!
  • Shields Up!
  • Breakup

Fighting for Love: In which one or both of your characters realize that they are ridiculous and/or childish asshats.

  • Dark night of the soul (death of the ego)
  • Wake up and smell the coffee!
  • Grand gesture (Lloyd in the driveway, boombox over his head, In Your Eyes blasting so loud that Diane can’t ignore it. It doesn’t have to be THIS grand but you get the idea.)
  • Whole-hearted=happily ever after/happy for now.

Like Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet, Romancing The Beat is great for newbie romance authors because it tells you exactly what your story needs. The constraints create a structure that allows you to stretch beyond the formula in imaginative ways once you learn it. It’s a must for any romance writer’s library so definitely grab a copy!

Tomorrow we’re starting the Journeys! Fool’s, Hero’s and Writer’s.

Happy writing!