Welcome to January’s Special Feature! Today I’m talking with one of my great writer friends about how she writes complex and compelling character arcs! Katie is an accomplished author who writes across several genres including Fantasy, Sci-fi, Horror, Poetry, and Contemporary summer reads. She also does art, and drew the illustration of her OC, Bolte, for this post’s header/preview image. Katie is active in the writing community on tumblr and is one of the nicest people I’ve met there, so I’m happy to be able to share her fantastic personality and advice with you today!
Question 1: First, can you tell me about yourself, how long you’ve been writing, and what you write?
Katie: Absolutely! I’ve been “writing” as a hobby since I was about ten – I got into writing Sailor Moon fanfiction for fun, and it went from there. I’ve been writing full time since I was about sixteen, when I opened my first fiverr account. I was using it to bring in extra income to go towards the horse that I owned at the time. I used to work at horse farms for a living – I trained hunter/jumper’s from the ground up and was on the way towards showing them full time when I started having health problem and switched gears fully into writing.
Katie: I like to write anything that has a found family base to it. Fantasy is where I thrive, but I also enjoy anything that has a “summer read” vibe to it. Road trip stories, and that sort of thing. Groundhog Day has been my main WIP for about three years and I’m hoping that it ends up being finished at some point this year!
Etta: Perfect! I know you used to work on horse farms but it’s cool to learn that you were writing too in order to make that happen. And I’ve loved following Groundhog Day so I’m super excited to hear that you’re hoping to finish it soon!
Question 2: When you start a WIP, are most of your characters built from the ground up, and then you let the story form around them? Or does the plot come first and you create characters to fit into the story you want to tell? Or is it a combination of both, depending on the WIP?
Katie: I usually make the characters first. The story itself might alter how those characters behave as I develop them, but I almost always have at least a general idea of the character when I start writing. I’ll decide that I want to write for a character that has a certain trope as their main trait, or a character that fits a certain role, and then I’ll start building up the story around that character.
Etta: That makes sense! I know you have a lot of WIPs and even more OCs, so it’s really neat to see how that development process works for you.
Katie: The one downside is I end up making OC’s…and then having to make new WIPs for them to go into! XD
Question 3: What are your favorite types of character arcs to write?
Katie: My favorite types of arcs are the ones that allow the character to under go a lot of growth. I want to see characters that heal; they start in a bad place, learn a lesson, and end up growing as a person by the end of the story. Arcs that can’t be solved with just one character interest me a lot, too. A character that thinks they need to face the world on their own…and must learn that they need to accept kindness and the help of others to proceed. I’m also a huge fan of the character arcs where the big “jump” so to speak is overcoming a tragic backstory, or learning to accept their past so they can move on and start building their future.
Etta: Growth and healing are two themes I’ve noticed a lot in your stories and part of why I really enjoy reading them! It’s so wholesome and inspiring to see those characters overcome the horrible situation they might be in and find their place among their friends and in the world at the end of it. And what a perfect lead in to the next question!
Katie: Yes! It’s my favorite thing to write about. I think that the world needs more stories about hope, recovery, and finding light in the dark. I promise happy endings to all of my stories for that exact reason!
Question 4: Before we started the interview, I asked you to pick an OC to talk about for the rest of the interview. Would you give us a quick overview of who they are and their story?
Katie: Bolte is one of the main characters in my WIP Groundhog Day. He’s the general of the Royal Army in Fara Falls – a fictional RPG video game based world, in which the kingdom has all but collapsed under the tyrannical rule of their current queen, Midnight. He specializes in fire and bone magic – often using his magic to form armor made out of bone, and fire as a main weapon in his fights. Bolte is a character who has been fighting from the time he was a kid, and who sees no end to that battle. The world he lives in – constant danger, where kindness is a weakness and weakness can get you killed – has taught him to use anger as both a weapon and a shield. He comes off as a mean, sharp tongued person with few redeeming qualities…but he cares a lot, and is constantly trying to keep his childhood friend – an injured paladin named Red – and his boss/only friend – Captain, head of the Royal Guard – alive. In his story, he’s tasked with keeping Blue, a traveler from another version of Fara, alive and locating his own paladin in the process, inadvertently getting tangled up in a war to save Blue’s home.
Etta: yesss! Bolte is one of my favorite OCs of yours and the parallel worlds of Fara are such a creative setting for this particular conflict. He’s a great example of someone who starts out in a really bad place. Your description is perfect you’re already setting up some of the next questions I’m going to ask you about and that’s great
Question 5: What motivates your character?
Katie: Bolte’s character is very complicated, but his motivation is actually very simple and straight forward. Bolte wants to keep Red alive, and he’s willing to do absolutely anything to make that happen. He’s willing to give up any other comfort – food, health, his own wants, his own safety or interests – if it means making sure that Red has a relatively safe place to live. That’s his character motivation, and I’ve also used it as his main driving force through the story. Bolte is originally only willing to work with Blue because that’s the easiest way to ensure that he’s able to return Red to their own world and keep Red safe. While that does broaden as his character grows, it’s always the Core Focus of his character’s driving force.
Etta: Bolte’s devotion to Red is one of the things that originally caught my attention for this story and this character, especially because it’s such a pure goal compared to some of the messy difficult choices and actions, he has to go through to make it happen. And I love how he never loses that core even as he grows as a person and his motivations broaden
Katie: It’s what’s made him one of my favorite characters to write for too, honestly. His mindset is always a lot of fun to get into and work with.
Question 6: What do you think are Bolte’s greatest strengths and faults?
Katie: His greatest strength is his perseverance. I’ve always thought that you can’t have hope if you’re not determined, and the core element of determination is being able to persevere. To look at a world that doesn’t want you to live, to look at a situation that is bleak and dark and often even painful, and to make the decision that you’re going to find a way to keep fighting, you’re going to find a way to break through that darkness and into the other side. Bolte doesn’t want to save the world.
Katie: He doesn’t want to save the kingdom. He wants to keep himself and Red – and as the story grows, his small group of friends, his important people, Blue and Locke and Captain and Aba – alive and as safe as can possibly be. It doesn’t matter what happens. Bolte will face any danger or threat and keep going. He’ll get up any time that he’s knocked down, and find a way to make the situation livable.
Katie: But that’s his greatest fault, too. Because Bolte is from a world that has taught him “kindness is weakness” and has spent his entire life knowing that he would have to fight to survive, he doesn’t understand the concept of letting someone else help him. He keeps his pains – his HEARTsickness, his mental stress, his physical aches like his bad knee – to himself. Even when he’s put into Fields of Fara later on, where there is access to so much more in the way of kindness and health care, Bolte doesn’t know how to look at someone and just admit “I need help”. It does get him into some rough situations, and ones that might have been avoidable if he’d thought to tell someone else how bad off he was at the time.
Katie: I’m a fan of characters who’s greatest strengths end up playing into their greatest fault a lot, actually XD
Etta: Bolte’s selflessness and love make him such an endearing character to read, and it’s interesting to see how he can only extend it so far, and to the point that it becomes good-intentioned self-destruction. And I know that Intent plays into your magic system too, so it’s especially interesting to see how that makes his fighting – both in literal battles and also just to survive every day – so much more complex!
Katie: Yes, it does! Intent directly affects how strong someone’s magic is, and how that magic affects them on a physical level. Bolte’s strong will to survive has, at times, been the only thing to keep his HP (being a video game world, the characters do have a set Health Point rating, unique to each individual) from hitting zero. And describing him as having “good intentioned self-destruction” is incredibly fitting and accurate. It’s what I find so interesting about him; a determination to live and keep others alive that often causes himself more damage than might otherwise be necessary.
Etta: On one hand my first response to that is “Oh no! He’s that hurt!” and on the other hand it’s a radio announcer voice in my head going “Local Man Too Stubborn and Angry to Die” :’)
Katie: Honestly? That’s valid. I hear it being said specifically in John Mulaney’s voice, honestly! And it’s very accurate! Because Intent is powered by emotions, Bolte simply found a way to use his anger, and on a deeper level his fear of losing Red, to keep himself moving even when he shouldn’t still be able to move.
Question 7: What sort of circumstances prompt Bolte’s character arc to really get rolling? Do they have to make any big and character-defining decisions?
Katie: The moment that Bolte realizes he cares for Blue as a friend and not just a “means to finding Red” or a “means to an end” is what prompts his character arc. Bolte’s arc is heavily based around learning how to accept help, and changing how he deals with other people, accepting that their kindness is genuine, that people care about him and he cares about them. So realizing that he genuinely cares for Blue, it’s an absolute shock to him, and starts shaping Bolte’s mindset into something that goes beyond just “whatever it takes to keep Red” alive, sort of broadening his view of the world and of people.
Katie: He comes to realize this when Blue helps him at no gain to himself; Blue puts himself in harm’s way to save Bolte, despite it not helping Blue at all in the long run.
Katie: Bolte’s story is a series of character defining decisions that he just…doesn’t notice until later, when Blue quite literally points them out to him. There are two scenes in particular that stand out as examples – one where Bolte chooses to go against the Queen’s orders to locate Captain, who is injured and lost in The Wilds, and then opts to take on the temporary role as captain, something that puts him in a lot of danger and puts him in frequent close proximity to the queen but keeps Captain safe.
Katie: The other is when he chooses to involve himself in the war in Fields of Fara because he just…doesn’t want to see Blue face it alone!
Etta: Bolte’s devotion to Red is sweet, but the other big thing that first brought me into this story was how you wrote Blue and Bolte’s dynamic, because Blue is now unexpectedly stuck in a world where everything is a lot more scary and deadly than his home and Bolte’s missing the person he’s done everything for and so they don’t like each other very much at first. And seeing that clash grow into friendship was amazing to see through the story and your writing style as their conversations become less combative and more camaraderie.
Katie: And yes! Blue and Bolte’s developing friendship is one of my favorite parts of GHD. They have very conflicting personalities, and the story is set up in a way that they shouldn’t get along. And they don’t! Blue is sarcastic, and scared, and he doesn’t understand this world where people kill so quickly and easily, just like he doesn’t understand the mean, angry persona that Bolte has developed as a defense mechanism over the years.
Katie: And Bolte is terrified that he has finally messed up and lost Red, that he wasn’t there at the right moment, and it’s cost him Red. He’s also very bitter towards Blue, who is a constant reminder of all the things that Bolte wasn’t able to give Red; a healthy paladin who has never had to kill to survive, who has never gone hungry. It makes him so angry! They spend the first half of the story clashing heads, until they’re able to learn to look outside of their own immediate view point. They go from being antagonistic towards each other to willing to do most anything for each other. In fact, it’s Blue who Bolte ends up going too when his HEARTsickness gets to be too much. I greatly adore how they interact with each other, and how they have to grow into being friends.
Question 8: – Why does Bolte’s arc resonate so much with you? What do you hope other people get from the story and reading this character?
Katie: Honestly, I like the parts of his character that don’t give up. He’s the strength that I want to find in myself; that no matter what happens, he doesn’t quit trying. That he’ll face anything thrown his way and find out how to come out alive on the other side. Bolte is never whole. He’s broken long before the story actually starts. But that doesn’t stop him from surviving. No matter what the world throws at him – and it’s a lot, one thing after the other – Bolte manages to keep going. I think about that a lot and work on those scenes a lot when I’m feeling low or overwhelmed in my own life, honestly. Bolte is strong and determined, and I like that about him. When I think about people reading my story, and think about them following along with him, I hope that’s a lesson they take from him. That you can find strength, no matter what. But I also hope they look at his character, and his arc, on a broad level. Bolte cannot survive on his own. He needs help. And his character has to learn how to accept that help, how to let others help him through problems, how to accept that he needs to sit, to take a breath. Bolte is supposed to show people that they can ask others in their life for help, and that there’s no shame in needing to rest.
Etta: That’s such a wholesome message and I admire you so much for taking the care and time to write it into the story so well. I’ve seen some of the insane daily word counts you pull for your work writing, so I can absolutely believe you have his strength, and I hope you have the support of friends helping you keep going too
Katie: Thank you! It took me a long time to learn this message, and I’m excited to share it through Bolte’s character. And I do – I have you, for one! And other people that I’ve met through the writeblr community, who have just been an endless supply of support over the last few years. <33
Etta: The writeblr community is incredible! it’s always a joy to be able to interact with other creative people there 😀
Chapter 9: Do you have any advice for other writers on creating a compelling character arc?
Katie: For me, I’ve found that finding the character’s driving force and lead to an easier establishment of a compelling character arc. With Bolte, once I realized that protecting Red was his driving motivation, I was able to find the faults in his character. Once the faults are established – doesn’t ask for help, puts himself in danger often, ignores personal problems – you can figure out what those faults have caused. For Bolte, it causes poor ability to ask for help, and a lack of friendly or familial relations. That means his character arc has to be about over coming those things; learning to ask for help, getting friends, and understanding that it’s okay to rest. I use that same thought process for most of the character arcs that I make. Compelling character arcs show the highs and the lows of a character, I think, so learning what those points for your OC are can help you develop your arc.
Question 10: and last but not least, where can readers find you and your work?
Thank you! I post art, short stories and chapters to longer stories (Starboy most often, but also occasional chapters of GHD) on patreon.com/abalonetea.
I have three books published! These are Putrescent Poems (a horror poetry and art Collection), Dandelion Fluff (a fantasy summer read about friendship in the Land of Monsters), and We Come Undone (a found family in a post apocalyptic world, set on the last farm in the country).
And of course, I post short stories and writing excerpts on my tumblr! This is where you can find updates on Groundhog Day, and other WIPs like Starboy, Just Keep Breathing, Swimming in Stars, NeonP!nk.
Thank you so much to Katie for agreeing to be a guest on today’s post! I learned a lot from her during this conversation and I love Groundhog Day and all the characters in it, so it was a special treat to be able to ask all of these questions and get the detailed thoughtful answers with So Much character background! If you liked reading about GHD, I highly recommend going to check out the rest of her work and supporting her if that’s possible for you. The writing is beautiful and you won’t regret it. Thank you for reading, and I’ll see you next week 🙂