Ethereality News & Weblog

July 24, 2015

Treat factions like characters and give them arcs too

Filed under: Arts & Media,Latest Works,Photography,Site News,Writing — Rob Chang @ 9:33 pm

A new batch of Kitty Cat Diary is up:

I’m still trying to catch up, and it’s hard to believe I’m still not done processing photos from June of 2013. I never thought I’d be behind by two years, but circumstances are different these days. In the last three years, I’ve shot three times as many photos on average each year than any typical year in the past, so it takes far longer to process them. At the same time, my teaching and writing already takes up most of my time and they have to come first, so that means there’s very little time for anything else.

Sometimes I ask myself why I continue when I’m already so busy with other things in life. But I always end up remembering that it’s because I love photography, I love Elena, and I really enjoy combining those two loves.



Treat factions like characters and give them arcs too

Recently, I had a bit of an epiphany while brainstorming Darkness Falls, one of the novels I’ve been working on.

I was having a hard time figuring out how to structure the main conflicts in this book series. I had been working hard on figuring out the character arcs, and I had assumed if I could nail the arcs, the main narrative structure for the entire series would automatically fall into place. But that wasn’t the case, because the world of Darkness Falls has lots of complexity and layers, and while the character arcs fulfill the more intimate aspects of the narrative, they don’t affect the larger seismic movements of the entire fictional world enough. I needed big conflicts with repercussions that will affect the entire narrative framework, and while thinking of ways to come up with those big conflicts, I had an “AHA!” moment.

What if factions in the story are treated like characters and given faction arcs?

When approaching character arcs, storytellers have to consider what kind of internal and external journey the character has to complete in the story. What are the important lessons about him/herself that needs to be learned? What aspects of the world and human nature needs to be understood in order for the character to grow? A compelling character arc usually will see the character change throughout the story and come out the other side different in some profound way (there are flat character arcs too, where the character remains steadfast regardless of what the world throws at him/her).

So how does all that apply to factions?

Let’s look at companies. People have specific impressions of various company personalities when you mention names like Disney, Facebook, BMW, Apple, Walmart, McDonald’s, Uber, etc. On a larger scale, countries have specific personalities associated with them. What comes to your mind when I mention countries like Canada, Japan, United States, China, and France?

If factions have unique cultures and personalities, then what happens if we treat them like characters and give them arcs?

Let’s say we have a startup company that’s facing a lot of growing pains. What are the lessons this company has to learn in order to overcome those difficulties and become the mature, successful company it aspires to be? What challenges does it have to face? What failures must it experience? What revelations must it discover? How will it find the strength to push forward when it seems like all hope is lost?

And if we look at a much bigger faction–let’s say a country or culture–we can apply the same approach to map out how it must overcome challenges in order to achieve its aspirations.

An even bigger scale would be the entire human race. As we are all aware of, the human race has many lessons it has yet to learn, and many challenges it has yet to overcome. The entire history of our civilization is in fact one big character arc, but on the scale of an entire species.

As you can see, when the concept of character arcs are applied to factions, it becomes much easier to visualize the big conflicts that shapes the entire framework of the story, because on that scale, every single change and development affects the whole story world, whereas character arcs don’t necessarily have profound impact on the entire fictional world they exist in. This is also why the faction arc approach is especially useful for larger scale stories where the entire fictional world needs to be involved.

Although factions are formed by people, and the people in the factions–especially the leaders–often determine the personality of the faction, there are times when a faction can develop a unique identity that’s not easily changed by the people. For example, some well-known companies’ personalities don’t suddenly just change because there’s a new CEO. In fact, a CEO can get fired for going against the established company culture. But some leaders have so much power that they alone dictate the personality of the faction, since the faction is basically an extension of that leader. So that means a faction’s arc may or may not overlap with a character’s arc (if the character is the leader of that faction).

This new approach has helped me a lot in developing the conflicts and narrative structure of Darkness Falls. I have never seen this approach mentioned before in all the books on writing/storytelling I’ve read, in writer’s forums, writer’s workshops, or during discussions with other writers, so maybe I’m the first one to have thought of it. If that’s the case, then I guess that’s pretty cool. But if I’ve merely discovered something that others already knew, then I hope at least my passing on this tip will help those who are struggling with the stories they’re working on.


1 Comment »

  1. Your wife is such a nice lady. U r really a luck guy.

    Comment by Alex — August 5, 2015 @ 11:12 pm

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