This valuable tip I picked up from Deborah Halverson, author and former editor, during her break-out session The Ultimate Checklist for Submitting to Editors. Also, check out her helpful website dear-editor.com.
Deborah calls this tip the TWIST AND DROP.
TIP: When you're done with your manuscript, take your main character from your last chapter and DROP HIM into your first chapter.
How does he respond to the events in your first chapter? If he behaves DIFFERENTLY, he passes the test.
If his behavior is the same, you have a problem: you don't have a good character arc. In other words, you have a stagnant character who has not experienced emotional growth during your book.
You can also do the opposite trick and drop your character from your first chapter into your last chapter. If he's totally in over his head and freaked out, then you've passed the test.
There are ways to fix the problem of a weak character arc:
- Put larger obstacles in your main character's path -- "put him in a tree and throw rocks at him."
- Make the stakes higher with more emotional depth -- make the losses mean more to him.
- Give your character a flaw that makes him believable and sympathetic. However, still give him a moral core, a purity of heart and motive, so that the reader keeps liking him.