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Jenny Andersen's The Surrender Arc

By Trulie Peterson
Copyright © 2009 by Lazette Gifford, All Rights Reserved

Like many other authors, I have a strong romantic thread in my fiction, even though I don't write Romance.  In an effort to strengthen my characters' romantic relationships I was excited to come upon Jenny Andersen's article on plotting using what she terms “The Surrender Arc”.

For the purpose of this article, let's imagine a happily ever after ending, although the Surrender Arc can certainly be employed for use with other outcomes. Surrender is therefore the goal, surrendering to love, surrendering to trust, surrendering control, surrendering whatever your character needs to along the way to that happily ever after.  Surrender itself indicates there is some struggle involved on the way to resolution. There should be obstacles, your characters should be thwarted in some manner. This makes for a more satisfying read.  In real life it is possible for the course of true love to run smooth. Unfortunately for your characters, this makes for boring reading. Use of the Surrender Arc helps plot out what these hidden depths and surging rapids hold for your characters in advance.

To briefly summarize, use of this Arc is a device to plot out not necessarily the actions of your characters, but their emotional journey. How do the character's feelings change over the course of the story? What are the obstacles? Where are the characters' feelings at different points in the story?  For example, if the couple meets at the beginning of your story, what are their first impressions of each other? What are the internal and external obstacles keeping them apart? 

Draw a curved line across a page. On one side is Protagonist X's feelings, the other side is Protagonist Y.  Now imagine the stages of a relationship. Let's say that for X and Y it follows this path:

1.            Meet

2.   Antagonism

3.   Attraction

4.   Respect

5.   Admiration

6.   Like/Friendship

7.   Love

Do the protagonists have the same feelings at the same time?  It will probably make for a more interesting story (and be more realistic) if they don't. Perhaps when X is feeling attraction, Y is feeling antagonistic. Perhaps when Y is falling toward Love, X is still feeling Respect.  How will X react to this?   

Within these emotions come the milestones of a relationship.  These can be different for different couples but let's say that the milestones involve holding hands, a formal first date, a first kiss.  What are your characters feeling at each of these milestones? Perhaps X felt pressured into going on the date by a parent. Perhaps Y meant the kiss to be a simple goodnight peck and it turned into something more.

The Surrender Arc, coupled with the plot arc will also clarify the emotions of your characters. How different are the emotions X experiences if life is going blandly according to plan as opposed to the chaos of wartime?  What is the push-pull exerted by the subplots of friends and/or family?   What is going on with X and Y professionally?  The plot has a direct bearing on how X and Y view each other. With each event there is a change in the character's perspective, emotions and what happens next is influenced by those feelings.

The Surrender Arc is also helpful in revision. It's a great tool for tracking your intertwined plot lines and making sure that the emotions you are portraying are genuine and fit where the character is at that point in time. This will prevent your romance subplot from feeling independent of the action of the rest of the story.

By using the Surrender Arc in plotting it become much easier to track the changes the characters experience over the course of the story. It's a handy tool to keep in the writer's toolbox.


Jenny Andersen's original article “The Surrender Arc” can be downloaded here: