Character Arcs to Warm the Heart

You could chalk it up to nostalgia: Re-watching a childhood classic to remember a loved one or a Christmas past. But often, I find turning to classic Christmas movies can be a way for me, my family and friends to jumpstart the holiday spirit or put us all in a festive mood. There’s something about watching John McClain and Sgt Powell have a heart to heart over walkie-talkie that inspires me to ramp up my own goodwill toward mankind. You want soft, feel-good moments in your own holiday, so enter the magic of modeling human kindness and love.

All that Christmas cheer got me thinking about how to build better, more heart-warming relationships between my own characters. Similarly to how actions can build conflict between two characters, I’d argue there are three main actions that can build up love (in its many splendid forms).

I think there are three main ways for characters to show the reader they love each other:

What they say to each other. A little bit of “I love you” (“As you wish” if you prefer) can go a long way in direct conversation, but it’s still important to look carefully at how dialogue can express love. Can your characters know or anticipate the other person, because they are paying such close attention. Do they change their personal position or couch the truth to preserve feelings? Are they more honest and vulnerable with someone with whom they feel unguarded?

What they do for each other. It’s no surprise that great love stories are often built around harrowing quests. What dragons are your characters willing to face to show their love? What tests and obstacles can you place in front of them? Beyond that, what favors and actions to they take to put the other person’s needs before their own?

What they give or give up. This wouldn’t be a Christmas post without presents! Like the Gift of the Magi, every object given in stories should come with a cost to have the most meaning. You can also have characters give up their time, choices and freedom for someone they love.

All three of these actions boil down to letting your character take a risk for another person. Character conflict is built up by understanding each character’s desire and how they might be at odds. I’d argue character love is built around understanding each character’s attitude toward risk and their willingness to lose something in order for another person to gain. Clark Griswold is ready to electrocute himself to make sure his family has the perfect holiday lights. When Scrooge is willing to part with his money and his pride, we know he has learned how to love the Cratchits. This season, I hope love and giving finds its way onto your pages as well as throughout your decked or undecked halls.

– This post was first published on Christmas Eve 2015.


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