Lessons From 2023: 5 Reflections on “Flat Arc” Periods

Welcome to 2024! And welcome to what has become a yearly tradition here at Helping Writers Become Authors. Every January, I write a New Year’s post in which I look back at the year that has passed and reflect on its major themes, lessons, and gifts. When I began this little ritual six years ago, the idea was to focus specifically on what writing lessons I may have learned. However, I quickly realized the lessons that most impacted me as a creator were inevitably part of the much vaster context that is my life.

Indeed, if you’re one of those who have travelled with me on this site over the years, you know my perspective on storytelling techniques has become increasingly life-centered—according to the understanding that story and life are inextricable. Life creates story; stories create life.

As I began mulling on this year’s post, back in December, I realized that although this was a huge year of forward momentum and productivity for me, it wasn’t a year that was as lesson-packed as some of those previously. Particularly in 2020, 2021, and 2022, I reflected on the intense drama, transformation, and often struggle I was moving through in my life. In comparison, 2023 was a good year, and it felt almost… flat.

Creating Character Arcs (Amazon affiliate link)

And that’s when I realized that 2023 was, for me, a year in which I was following a Flat Arc, whereas in the previous years I had been on the adventure of Change Arcs.

For those who have read my book Creating Character Arcs, you’ll remember that a Change Arc is one in which the protagonist struggles to transform perspectives, personal identities, and subsequently actions. The protagonist moves from a comparatively limited perspective or “Lie” into a broader perspective or “Truth.”

A Flat Arc, by contrast, is one in which the protagonist already knows the story’s current Truth. Instead of being challenged to transform perspectives, the character is challenged to live a Truth that was previously earned.

The Glorious Importance of Flat Arcs in Our Lives

I’ve been mulling on this lately, having made a few videos about Flat Arcs over on my YouTube channel. Originally, I was planning to publish a more “writerly” post on Flat Arcs this year (and I may yet), but as I began to plan this week’s New Year’s post, I realized my personal experiences this year perfectly represented so much of what I wanted to say about the importance of Flat Arcs.

Flat Arcs don’t sound very flashy or glamorous. And in many ways, they are not. They’re not about becoming, growing, or transforming. They’re about being. As such, they are the foundation of everything. Flat Arcs represent Order in contrast to the Change Arcs’ necessary Chaos.

It’s true that the Positive Change Arc is the darling of character arcs. The quintessential Change Arc is the Hero’s Journey (among others). It is the archetypal wrestling of Light Against Shadow, Progress Against Stagnation, Liberation Against Slavery. The Change Arc is, as Joseph Campbell so poignantly points out in The Hero With a Thousand Faces, the winner-takes-all battle of the heroic principle against the tyrant Holdfast, “keeper of the status quo.”

Gives me shivers just writing it!

And yet, this epic dictate brings with it an implicit connotation that the status quo is somehow bad. After all, it is the tyrant to be overcome. So shouldn’t we be overcoming it all the time?

But this cannot be true. The very existence of Flat Arcs shows us this (particularly in how Flat archetypes necessarily show up in between every Change Arc in the life cycle).

Here’s the thing I realized toward the end of last year: you cannot transcend the status quo until you have mastered the status quo.

The status quo is a necessary foundation on which to build the next iteration of one’s life. Skipping from new Truth to new Truth to new Truth without taking the time to fully integrate and embody that Truth represents unsustainability of the highest magnitude. Particularly when considering the sequential Change Arcs of the archetypal life cycle, which I’ve talked about in my book Writing Archetypal Character Arcs, we can see how each later Change Arc can only emerge from a full integration of all previous Change Arcs.

And where does that integration happen? In Flat Arc periods.

This doesn’t mean Flat Arcs are periods in which nothing happens. Not at all. Indeed, the external action can sometimes be even more intense in a Flat Arc than in a Change Arc, as the protagonist takes what was learned and now uses it to transform the surrounding world and its reality. It can be a time of intense conflict with others who don’t like that the protagonist has changed and is, at least implicitly, prompting change in others as well.

As a result, and as an inherent part of this necessary integration, a Flat Arc can also be a time of deep soul-wrestling, which is why doubt is one of the key factors in developing a Flat Arc character in a story. Previously, this character learned a new Truth that presumably made just a little bit more sense out of life. But now, this character must be willing to master this new status quo. The challenge is to avoid backsliding and to cultivate the discipline and sheer willpower necessary to live life at a higher octave than was previously supported by the world. Without cultivating the discipline to become worthy of the new Truth previously learned in the Change Arc, the character will never be able to build a foundation for the next upgrade of perspective.

This isn’t easy. Even though Change Arcs may sound like the great adventures of our lives, requiring as they do tremendous courage and fortitude, it is the Flat Arcs that truly test whether we are willing to live our new Truths in the face of life’s often pervasive boredom, grinding resistance, and determined delusion.

5 Tips for Successfully Living Your Flat Arcs

In short, I suppose what I’m trying to say is that: Flat Arcs are glorious! They are our proving grounds. It’s like the Axel in figure skating: all that twirling about doesn’t matter if you can’t stick your landing.

And so to open this New Year, here are five lessons I have learned from one of the most important Flat Arcs of my life to date.

1. Skipping From Change Arc to Change Arc = Bypassing

Beginning with a Disillusionment Arc in 2016 that eventually helped me complete an overdue Maiden Arc starting in 2018, followed by a Hero Arc in 2021, the past seven years have been a momentous epoch in my life. These transitions were soul-deep and at times excruciatingly painful. But they also, without qualification, created the most glorious years of my life. I am so grateful for these journeys. As hard as it all was, I would choose it all over again without modification.

I am proud of myself for the sheer courage and determination that allowed me to face outgrown perceptions, to let old ego identities die, and to rise into the rebirth of newly evolving perspectives. Back then, I tackled the need for growth with an almost rabid intensity. And despite of how hard it often was, I loved it. (I don’t think it a coincidence that I’m best known for my work on character arcs; transformation is where it’s at, baby!).

In some ways, the harder lesson for me was that however sexy transformation may be, it isn’t where life is truly lived. Life is lived just as much, if not more, in the in-between moments, the “down” phases when it seems like not much is happening. It is lived in the periods of integration.

In these past seven years, I have changed so much as to be unrecognizable. I embraced this phoenix existence with as much pride as determination. And that, too, was an identity that had to go. Sometimes I’m a phoenix with wings of fire, rising out of the ashes. Most of the time, though, I’m just a regular bird with regular wings, hopping around looking for worms in the dirt.

This year, I had to realize I couldn’t rush change. I couldn’t summon it. I couldn’t get ahead of the game and decide to change. I couldn’t do anything that would put me in the driver’s seat for the next Change Arc and make it any easier to live through than the last one. In short: I couldn’t cheat. Thinking I could—thinking that if I could just figure out the end game of everything I ever wanted—I could fast-track myself to even more transformation faster and easier? Nope, that’s just bypassing.

A Change Arc without a Flat Arc to follow it is incomplete. The Flat Arc periods are just as important as the flashier phoenix chapters. Maybe Flat Arcs don’t offer as many dopamine hits or changes of scenery, but they are overflowing with blessings. Flat Arcs are when we have the opportunity to slow down a bit and to reap—at least internally—some of the fruits of our own labors.

2. Flat Arcs Are Hard Work

Flat Arcs are the periods in which we put in the hard work to solidify our victories and ensure that what we have previously learned and gained cannot slip away from us. Flat Arcs are a period of vigilance. And sometimes being the night watchman is a whole lot harder than being the badass warrior.

Change Arcs (in my experience so far) are less about putting in the hard work and more about simply hanging on for dear life. In some respects, Change Arcs happen to us. Life hands us an initiatory experience, often a crisis, and we have no choice but to hurtle over the edge of the roller coaster and find out what we’re made of. Flat Arcs, by contrast, are more in our control. We get to choose whether or not we will step forward and live out the principles we were shown during our terrifying Change Arcs.

It’s one thing to value a Truth when life is hairy and we’ll grab onto anything that will help us survive. It’s another thing altogether to value that same Truth when life has slowed down, when the devil isn’t at the door anymore, and when the next threat is so far away on the horizon as to seem almost invisible. Flat Arcs are filled with challenges, but they are of a more mundane, often boring, sometimes frustrating sort. If Change Arcs are the Declaration of Independence, then Flat Arcs are the minutiae of bureaucracy—not very glamorous, but everything falls apart if the work doesn’t get done.

For me, the hardest flex of my Flat Arc this year was simply being present and doing the work that was before me without fobbing it off into the future. I wasn’t always doing the things I wanted to do, but everything I did was a slow build based on the foundation of the previous Change Arcs. This past year was one of the most productive I’ve had in a long time. In no small part this was because, after so long, I finally had the space within myself to devote my time and attention to external pursuits. I poured myself into my business and my writing in ways I wouldn’t have been able to do before.

3. Mastering the Status Quo

I can look back on the period of my life prior to the massive string of Change Arcs that kicked off in 2016, and I can see how the discipline I showed in those earlier years was the foundation that helped me get through those later challenges. Every moment of boring discipline I showed in my business or my personal development or my relationships became an invaluable lifeline once that hurricane of change hit. To the degree I had “mastered my status quo” prior to 2016, I was able to support a much greater level of transformation than I would otherwise have been able to reach.

Recognizing this has helped me cultivate patience and maintain discipline in this current Flat Arc period. For me, this has looked like getting meticulous with my mental, physical, energetic, and spiritual health. I have spent this period of relative calm, when there have been fewer demands and responsibilities, in being vigilant with myself. I have not turned away from what is hard or scary. I have looked my shadow in the face every day, have chased after my pain, pushed against my places of constriction, found the weaknesses that hold me back.

I have relentlessly brought in every resource I have learned, found, or could dream up to do the work now, while I can, before life itself once again starts rolling faster and faster again. Because it will roll again. The next initiation will come. And instead of being flung headfirst into the maelstrom this time, I will be waiting for it with all due respect for its awesome power.

Mastering the status quo of a Flat Arc means being present with the Truths learned in the previous Change Arc. Change Arcs are all about that flash of insight—that Moment of Truth—that leads to an expansion of the self. But that flash isn’t, in itself, the whole of that particular Truth. This helps us see that Flat Arcs are not as static as is sometimes thought. Rather, Flat Arcs are a testing ground for fully learning these new Truths, for refining them. Only once these Truths have fully integrated into our beings can we transcend their limitations and move up another level in the spiral.

4. Why Successful Flat Arcs Are the Only Way to Keep Change Arcs From Going Catastrophically Wrong

Change Arcs are all about energy. They are kinetic, often chaotic, full of life and possibility and expansion.

Flat Arcs are physical. They are grounded, practicable, orderly. They are not about the potentiality of what could be, but about the bounty of what is.

According to that analogy, we can see how Change Arcs, by themselves, are utterly unsustainable—even catastrophically destructive. More than that, without the stability and structure of the Flat Arc periods, the sheer energy that is unleashed in a Change Arc can become counter-productive and cause its subject to self-destruct. Of course, the drama of my language here is referring to big Change Arcs. The sheer primality of archetypal, initiatory Change Arcs packs a huge wallop. Without the foundation of a previously successful Flat Arc period, that kind of charge can literally kill or maim.

I experienced this up close and personal during my own epic sequence of Change Arcs.  I 100% credit the foundational work—particularly the mastery of discipline in general—that I had done in the previous Flat Arc period to getting me through those years. But I also know that one of the reasons that transformational phase was so difficult was because I really wasn’t prepared to get sucked into the hurricane.

If there is one thing I now know, it is that the hurricane of change will come again.

If there is a second thing I know, it is that we can never truly prepare for the unknown. By its very nature, it is unknowable. To believe that because we survived one epoch necessarily means we have the chops to survive the next is the most dangerous sort of arrogance.

But if there is a third thing I know, it is that if I am to reap the glories of the next Change Arc, then I must prove myself utterly faithful to this current Flat Arc period. Right now it is summer, and the harvest is thick upon the ground. When winter comes again, my storehouses will be full.

5. When the Flat Arc Starts to Sing, Then You’re Ready for Change

People can interact with the inevitability of change in one of two limited ways (and often both).

Either, like the grasshopper in the fable, we believe summer will never end, the storms will never come, and the hardships of life will never touch us or our loved ones. Or we get hooked on the thrill of the adventure and go storm chasing in the belief that our sheer familiarity with the hurricane means it can’t hurt us. (If you’ve studied the dual shadow archetypes associated with each archetypal Change Arc, then you’ll recognize these responses as passive and aggressive, respectively.)

Based on what I’ve shared here, you may notice that I tend toward the latter response (although not exclusively). I want change, and I want it yesterdayBut if this year has taught me that the basic lesson of the Flat Arc is presence, then I have also slowly come to trust in the perfection of its timing. And this is beautiful. Change is too deep and too dangerous to be thrust upon the unwitting or the unready (although it will be if we do not cooperate by facing and accomplishing the work that is before us).

What I have learned this year—in perhaps the gentlest and most loving lesson of all—is that when we are faithful with our Flat Arcs, then eventually in the fullness of time, they bloom out. Where once our new Truth may have felt like a suit of clothes that was too big for us, causing us to stumble and trip about like a child, eventually we grow into it. Our eyes and our hands and our muscles become accustomed to the work we are now doing. Our skills grow, and so does our strength.

We move from Not Knowing That We Don’t Know to Knowing That We Don’t Know to suddenly beginning to suspect that perhaps for a while now we have been Not Knowing That We Know. Once there, we are only a breath away from the final step: Knowing That We Know. And when we have reached that, then it is time for the next Change Arc.

As we transition into a new year, I feel myself emerging somewhere in those final steps of this current Flat Arc. I feel how I have changed, how I have integrated. I feel how the impetus for yet more change is gathering its charge beneath my feet. This coming year will, I suspect, be momentous. I sense the rumblings of a Queen Arc. If I am right (or if I am wrong), meet me back here in one year, and I will tell you all about it!

Until then, I hope these thoughts on the beauty and power of the Flat Arc will offer inspiration or perhaps even guidance for the New Year that is before you. Whether you are currently following a Flat Arc or a Change Arc, large or small, my wish for you is that 2024 will be a year of profundity, bounty, and Truth. Happy New Year!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What kind of arc were you on in the past year? Tell me in the comments!


Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast or Amazon Music).

___

Love Helping Writers Become Authors? You can now become a patron. (Huge thanks to those of you who are already part of my Patreon family!)

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Congratulations — sounds like you’ve made these years work for you.
    Flat arcs are tricky things. They really are where we *live,* and where we do the work of understanding where we are and what we really need, even after years where everything seems the same. The lessons we need can be well-hidden, and the corruptions even more so.
    Still, even then, there are choices to make. A lot of what you’ve taught us about flat arcs came from Captain America, and maybe his best moment in the comics came from using the right quote at the right time:
    “Your job is to plant yourself like a tree by the river of truth, and tell the whole world ‘No, you move.’ “

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “They really are where we *live,* and where we do the work of understanding where we are and what we really need.”

      So well said.

      And, yes, Cap will always be one of my favorite examples of a stalwart Flat Arc. He’s great because he doesn’t exemplify an *unwillingness* to change, just a patience with the fact that he doesn’t currently need to.

  2. Kris Spero says

    Happy New Year, Katie! Thank you, as always, for the inspiration and for sharing your knowledge with us.
    This is a brilliant piece and one of my favorite posts ever. I will take my time processing this.
    I’ve never given much thought to flat arcs in my writing as I always focus on stories of transformation. And now you just opened my eyes to flat arcs in my own life and how important they’ve been. It reminds me of that old adage that when fishermen can’t go to sea, they repair their nets. The repairing and preparation are flat arcs! Eureka! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve always appreciated Flat Arcs as representing people who are able to live their Truths. But, as you can see, I’ve revitalized my perspective on them as well. They’re so much more than we give them credit for sometimes.

  3. Chris Lilly says

    Happy New Year Katie, and thank you for sharing so much of what you have learned in the past few years. As often is the case, your thoughts triggered a cascade of thoughts for me, more literary than personal this time.
    I have been rereading a long series containing a protagonist with one of the flattest character arcs ever. He came into the world as such a ‘perfectly imperfect’ character that I’m sure the author worked tremendously hard to take him through every possible trauma and blessing of life, love, loss, parenthood, death, and resurrection without significantly changing his cynical, brooding, honor-bound, and essentially loving character in any significant way. Of course I am referring to Jim Butcher’s magnificent Harry Dresden.
    In Dresden’s world, he never has a quiet minute to consolidate a new truth, but is generally assailed and assaulted before he has time to brush his teeth.
    Thankfully, real life is allowed to be less interesting, and therefore I feel no compunction in wishing you a happy and moderately interesting 2023!
    Chris

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Characters in episodic series often take the Flat Arc to its extreme! :p And, thank you, “moderately interesting” sounds good to me. 😉

  4. Happy New Year, Katie! Thank you for this insightful post. I agree, Flat Arcs are where we live, a necessary place and time to reflect and process. Stillness is difficult for many, but the rewards are beautiful.

  5. Fabulous article. Two of my seven novels are flat arc. I loved writing those stories, but I also have this vague feeling that flat arcs are under appreciated, particularly in sci fi and fantasy. I find that a bit discouraging.
    The character of my last book didn’t fight any huge battles. He did find excruciating courage to pull off the dangerous thing that he alone knew how to do. Only two people knew of his hidden efforts, while the masses condemned him.
    I think this kind of story is “heroic” in an invisible way. Thanks for writing an aritcle celebrates flat arcs.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      We can find many great examples of Flat Arc characters, especially in series (Chris mentioned the popular Harry Dresden above). So don’t feel alone. Flat Arcs can be just as popular as Change Arcs.

  6. Katie, I just wanted to say how amazing it’s been to hear how you’ve grown and overcome your challenges over the past years. Obviously I don’t know much about your personal life, but reading what you’ve chosen to share on this blog has always been encouraging. I love your use of archetypes in stories and in real life, and having that framework has helped me navigate changes in my own life. I’m glad you’ve had a year to rest and prepare for the next challenges life is sure to throw at you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks, Anne! It’s been a true joy to take all of you along on my journeys. Very glad you’ve found something worthwhile for yourself in it as well!

  7. Lew Kaye-Skinner says

    This is an amazing post! I’ve enjoyed reading and learning from your posts for some time, but this one soars to new heights. Thank you, thank you, thank you! (And no, I’m not trying to sell anything.)

  8. The question which comes to my mind is, “okay, but what about the audience? Aren’t change arcs more appealing?”

    I think that’s generally true for the first story which introduces a particular character. Having a flat arc for the protagonist in the first book in a series feels like a bad idea. However, having a dramatic transformation for a protagonist in every installment (if a series is long enough) feels unrealistic. In long running series with the same protagonists, my favorite installments are the ones with the change arcs, but I also appreciate the stories with flat arcs. They allow me to spend more time with characters I’m attached to, but in a gentler way.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Flat Arc characters can be extremely compelling. These are still stories of arcing and changing, but the difference is that the protagonist functions as the Impact Character, influencing change in the surrounding characters and world.

  9. Christopher M. says

    Thank you for the post, Mrs Weiland. I think some of my current and recent impatience with life has been caused by being in a flat arc. The encouragement was appreciated.

  10. Bryon Richards says

    Wow!

    Thanks for the very heartfelt post. Your ability to bridge the writer’s life with the personal one is enlightening. I usually dread the New Year examination of one’s life. I hate the idea of resolutions; however, your idea of bringing the archetype framework to it brings me to a fresh way to look at it. I agree with your perspective on the Flat Arc and how exciting it can be. (Flat is such a boring word, LOL)

    Like you, I definitely finished a Change Arc and it does kind of feel good to master my new status quo. I guess my challenge would be any anxiety I get traveling through my Flat Arc period. I don’t want to fall into that trap of a self-fulfilling prophecy of expecting a Change Arc and accidentally forcing one when it’s not necessary (or that dreaded backslide).

    One Year, Katie! I look forward to comparing notes. Have a very “Flat” New Year!!

    Cheers!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m not big on resolutions either. I like intentions and plans, but resolutions often have the counter-productive effect of making me feel boxed in. Rather than making resolutions at the beginning of the New Year, I much prefer to look back on the old and reflect on what lessons and gifts it has given me as a foundation for the year to come.

  11. Heartfelt post, thank you. Flat arcs are like the sequel to the scene, and regarding the change arc that will follow the flat, Disraeli supposedly said, “Expect the unexpected.” Happy new year.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      “Flat arcs are like the sequel to the scene.”

      Exactly. Yet another way in which the pattern repeats at all level of story. Well said.

  12. K.M., I’ve had this in my “read” box for days now and finally pulled it out. Perfect timing. I am in absolute tears. On my end-of-year reflections I was noting how immensely different the past two years have been for me energetically. No less complex on the outside – but my inner experience was radically different, as if I was breathing a different atmosphere or orbiting around a different star. What I realized was that two years ago I had been initiated into a new, transformational Truth – and that the two years since have been a time of practicing in living FROM the truth of that Truth. Making it my own. Your words here are exactly exactly exactly exactly that. I could not find my own words and now you’ve given me the words I need. I’m going to print this out and highlight the most deeply resonant words … and there just won’t be anything left unhighlighted. So be it. 💜

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is beautifully said, Maryn! I’m so happy the post resonated for you. I know so strongly from my own experiences how meaningful it can be to have someone else put words to what you are experiencing. It doesn’t change your own experience, but it brings a level of context that can feel so grounding and validating. Very happy if that is what you experienced here. Wishing you an incredible journey moving forward!

  13. Thanks for this. And HPNY. As a therapist and as a developing writer, I would say there’s interesting overlap between those two roles, both roles utilising the power and creativity of stories and the potential of imagination to find ways forward. Systemic therapist Michael White developed some inspiring ideas and practices in this area, and his case illustrations help undertand how the ideas can be used to help us dig ourselves out from the seeming dead ends life can sometimes throw up. Great reading for writers too, I would say.

    Yes, after reading some of the recent books in the Harry Dresden series, I recently got Storm Front, the first one, and I agree he’s on a flat arc! In Storm Front he’s more in a PI mode, the origins of his dry wise cracking style are clearer, maybe. There’s a lot to enjoy in the series, but his ongoing flatness is maybe a kind of opposite to the idea of relentlessly ongoing change arcs? Potentially unsustainable. At least he has the Archangel Michael character to aid and mentor him now.

    I was thinking how ongoing flatness can make a character decentred, the stories become episodic and about others? Like many superhero type story series. Zena Warrior Princess seems an example though where she did wend her way to some progress in terms of her relationship with Gabrielle? A slender thread of change…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Many episodic stories will opt for a Flat Arc (or at least the ghost of one), since it allows the protagonist to remain the central aspect of continuity from episode to episode.

  14. Julie Fleischauer says

    Kate, Thank you for getting me through 2023! I found your podcast last year, and for me the whole year was a series of very intense personal positive change arcs (that sometimes felt very negative) and then tiny flat periods of integrating and understanding how to live those changes. Thank you for giving me the words! I would not have known how else to describe it. I love listening to your voice, and so appreciate the quality of your work.
    Writing has been so important in my life, that I could never give it center stage – it felt like if I put that kind of pressure on it, I’d ruin it. I’ve since learned some trust and believe that even if there are dull times, the sparkle will always come back – that love isn’t one you loose.
    In 2022 I started working with a man who was finishing his first self-published fiction novel, and it reawakened my inspiration. I felt for the first time that I really could share what I write, and that it mattered, what I had to say. Ironically, that friendship ended very badly, and somehow that transferred to my relationship with writing…which eventually led me to your podcast. So, as usual, I can thank the worst scenes of my life for bringing me the best and most beautiful vistas of contrast.
    I’ve been unable to finish any long work of fiction I’ve ever started writing, so I set myself the ultimate goal this winter – to write a novel. I’ve always been challenged by plot (I tend to shy away from all conflict, even on the page) but my biggest issue is sticking with an idea, and believing that the message within that idea is enough to carry a worthwhile story, right to the end. Thus, I get mired in change, which is a useful distraction: If I never pin down the actual details, I’ll never be disappointed by writing a story that isn’t “perfect” and that doesn’t say everything that I’ve ever wanted to say.
    I suppose if there is a question in my long winded story, it is this: How do you set boundaries on your story? When do you know that you have what you need for the story, and how do you know when to set certain ideas aside for perhaps another, separate story, and just stick with what you’ve got?
    Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks for your kind, note, Julie! I’m very glad the podcast has been a nurturing companion for you this year.

      In answer to your question, I have written a few posts on the topic of knowing when it is time to move, which you might find helpful:

      https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/how-to-tell-when-your-book-is-finished-4-signs-its-time-to-move-on/
      https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/when-writing-how-do-you-know-when-enough-is-enough

    • If you mean interpersonal conflict, that’s tough for me too. I always try to get into the characters’ shoes and it’s uncomfortable making them fight. Probably you’ve read advice about how conflict drives drama and you can’t have plots without it. But………..you totally can.
      Instead of mining drama out of characters clashing, you can set them up against a situation. For example, The Martian. All the characters are working towards one goal (rescuing Mark Watney), so the conflicts are almost entirely man vs. Mars and scientists vs. physics. Sci-Fi really lends itself to this kind of story, but other genres work too. Ocean’s 11 is about a team of thieves vs. a vault full of money. Stories where characters who *would* be in conflict are forced to work together because of an external threat are also very satisfying.

  15. “Maybe Flat Arcs don’t offer as many dopamine hits or changes of scenery, but they are overflowing with blessings.”
    Thank you for writing this article. I resisted even reading about Flat Arcs for so long because I assumed they’d be…well, flat. Of course flat characters have their place, but most writing advice is focused on change. This is the first I’ve seen that really gives slow, deliberate growth its due as an important part of both life and art. It made me think of Patrick Jane in “The Mentalist” and how he grows and matures through 7 seasons. The ability to show that kind of slow, organic growth is what I love about TV versus cinema.
    Reading this article also made me realize that it describes my current story perfectly. It’s a fanfic about a character whose original arc ends immediately after he has an epiphany — he dies, so he doesn’t really have a chance to live out what he learned. Talk about wasted potential! That’s probably why I couldn’t make my continuation fit into the usual beat-sheets and hero’s journeys and snowflakes and whatnot. Those are focused on the big change, and that already happened. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of blessings left to find.
    “We don’t so much solve our problems as we outgrow them. We add capacities and experiences that eventually make us bigger than the problems.” — Carl Jung
    Here’s to becoming bigger than our problems…eventually. 🙂

  16. Thank you so much Katie for this wonderful post. It’s been on my radar to read since you sent it out…finally got to it today, all in good time 🙂

    After 6 years, following an accident, of trying to initiate Change Arcs several times with disastrous consequences every time, I’m just about coming to terms with this new reality (well, a 6-year-old reality now…) and your post has solidified my thinking over the past few weeks – that I am most definitely in a Flat Arc and have been for 6 years and that I need to master this status quo before any change can happen i.e. truly get to know this version of myself and stop trying to be who I was before. I need to be ready for this Change Arc that I can definitely feel is coming! These past 6 years have not been in vain.

    Thank you again for being on this journey alongside of us all and for these insights that have truly brightened my day today.

    Best wishes for all and kind of arcs to come in 2024!
    Teresa

  17. I really love this post. I’ve also gone through some intense, terrifying, exhilarating internal changes in the past few years or so. This year has been not so much internal upheaval of my core perspective as struggle to implement those truths in day to day practice in the external world. It would be nice to think that I have more time to integrate and utilize my new perspective in the outer world before the next cyclone of paradigm-exploding drama.
    I love the idea of the more flat time periods “preparing” you somewhat for a Change Arc. I can see how that was true for me- how the subjects I studied, skills I expanded, and relationships I nurtured during relatively “Flat” periods ultimately set the stage for and enabled me to survive the “Change” periods.
    Finally, I realize I have a bit of a soft spot for book series and tv shows that include ample flat arc time, even if some fans consider it “filler.” I love how it gives more dimension to the characters, makes their transitions feel real and “lived in,” and lends meaningful contrast to change arc periods. Shows like Star Trek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer did this really well in my opinion. It’s a reason I also seek out fanfiction with a focus on “slice of life” adventures and enjoy old Star Wars spin-off novels.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.