FOR THE artistic & imaginative WRITER

How NOT to Lose Your Sanity

McKenzie Staley

Balancing ​Character Arcs & Plotlines

I think the most stressful thing I’ve ever gone through with my writing is balancing character arcs and the plot. I still struggle with this today, as are a lot of people. But I do have some tips as to how I get through this stage of writing that I’d like to share.


Structure is probably the most important advice I can give you.

A lot of people use structure and plot interchangeably. That’s really not correct. Plot is basically your story. You plot your story with a beginning, middle, and end. The structure of a story is how that plot unfolds. Its really there to help–you guessed it–structure your plot.

There are structures out there that will include the character arcs. Because, let’s be honest, character storylines are basically a whole new plot that takes place within the story’s plot.

I personally use Michael Hauge’s Six-Stage Plot Structure. Now this one does not show a character’s storyline, but tells you what stage in the character storyline you should be in for each plot stage.

Outline them separately

Character development is basically a plotline in and of itself. You have to weave these character arcs in with the plot eventually. But, for the moment, outline your plot and character arcs.   

Write the key points down for each character arc and then write the key points of your plot. Remember to have a beginning, middle, and end for each of them.

Now, look at both of them and see where the character arc fits in with the plot.


   Don’t expect for both plot and character arcs to work perfectly after the first draft. I think this is something everyone should expect, but it can be discouraging because you already put in all the time to write and outline these two aspects and they still won’t do what you want.

I suggest doing an entire pass on just plot and character arcs. Now, everyone’s writing process is different, but if this is something you struggle with you might want to consider an entire pass dedicated towards it.

Don’t rush

This is just great writing advice in general.

And no, I’m not patting myself on the back here, because this is not just my advice. Every author will tell you this. Don’t rush the process.

That means don’t rush your writing. If you need time to figure out how to perfectly balance your plot and character arcs then you take that time. Your story will thank you later.

Go back to the basics

The basics for character would be their want, their goals, and the thing preventing them from those goals.

Plotting basics would be the beginning, the middle, and the end.

You probably already know all of this. So now, combine them.

In the beginning, you want to state the character’s wants, their goals. Closer to the middle, you want the prevention to come into play.

Now, as the story progresses, develop the character goals and wants, and make the prevention stronger.

Character and plot play off each other

In great stories, characters and plot play off each other. They progress together, and they backslide together. They are basically sisters.

You don’t want the characters to overwhelm your story and you don’t want the story to overwhelm the characters.

If you are having a hard time keeping up with your story and character arcs, here’s a great way to remember both.

If something happens in the plot, it affects the characters. If the characters choose to do something, it affects the plot.

Don’t give up

I titled this piece “How Not to Lose Your Sanity” but in reality, there is no possible way to not lose your sanity a little bit when you are a writer. There are so many moving parts, and this is just one small part of it.

I hope that these tips can help you to get through this part of the writing process.

Ghost Writer, McKenzie Staley

Thank you for joining us this week for Ghost Authors! We hope you enjoyed this week’s post written by our very own Ghost Writer, McKenzie Staley. You can follow McKenzie on her Instagram. Also, if you’d like to read more posts written by McKenzie, you can search her name in the search engine on our website in the top right-hand corner and see all the articles she has written for us. If you’d like to know more about her, be sure to check out our “Meet the Team” page for more information. If you have any suggestions for future articles, please let us know by sending us a quick message. Thank you so much for your time this week. Please leave all your thoughts and comments below! Until next time, have a happy day!

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