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This question is very similar to this one, but I felt it was distinct enough that it was worth asking as a separate question.

In a lot of fantasy and science-fiction stories that are nominally set in the present, day, in the first volume or so there is almost invariably a plotline where the everyman main character is drawn into the supernatural world and is forced to adapt in some fashion. Quite often this takes the form of a typical Campbellian hero's journey. Getting dragged into the supernatural world is crossing the threshhold, learning about the world is challenges and temptation, they hit a low point as an abyss and then adapting to the supernatural world and/or returning to reality is the return. Through the process of this adaptation, we get ready-made conflict as well as a way to learn about the supernatural elements of the setting as the audience does.

However, what does one do to continue to develop a character and keep them interesting after this initial arc plays out and they are familiar with the supernatural elements of the setting? I realize a lot of this is dependent on the character and hence is highly subjective, but I am trying to figure out what to do to keep these characters interesting in a general sense. Once the character has played out the initial hero's journey cycle, their initial source of conflict is gone, and it's not clear how to develop a character from there. I.e., descending into the supernatural underbelly of the world isn't as thrilling the second time around as it is no longer the great unknown to the character and the character may have friends or allies from the first time around to help them out.

I've noticed in other urban fantasy works (e.g., The Darren Shan Saga, Harry Potter, Gregor the Underlander, etc.) almost invariably pivot into a "someone wants to take over the world" plot when they initially run out the warranty on the initial "character discovers the supernatural world" arc, or else they draw out the "adapting" arc over multiple books. However, a lot of times these kinds of arc feel hollow because unless the bad guy is written really, really well they don't actually further the character development of the protagonist, merely represent an end-boss threshold guardian to overcome. E.g., one of the big reasons why Umbridge was considered a more memorable villain than Voldemort, Umbridge was more of a personal challenge to Harry whereas Voldemort was just a big, bad snake man who shot green lasers that Harry had to defeat to end the conflict. Voldemort clearly hates Harry but Harry just seems resigned to fight Voldemort out of duty (as seen in the conversations at the end of Order of the Phoenix) and the antagonistic relationship produces little development in Harry (especially compared to, say, Sirius' death). This kind of plotting swerve by itself seems like a bit of a problem because the pivot into the "bad guy wants to take over the world" plot doesn't seem to provoke more character growth in the protagonist, and the protagonist ends up stagnating outside of subplots.

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  • Have a look at Rick Cook's Wizard books.
    – JRE
    Jun 24 at 9:21
  • The Incarnations of Immortality story line deals with this particularly well, in that each book has both arcs in it, and the book (For Love of Evil) where the antagonist is the protagonist turns the whole series on its head, and we learn the Devil really is in the details...
    – DWKraus
    Jun 24 at 20:20
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What are their problems?

First of all, you want to set these up in the initial arc.

Then your characters need reason to grow. Is your character still timid even after mastering magic? Is he still looking for a home?

Finally remember that a line can go on forever, but arcs end. Development should end in developed..

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Change the setting.

  • Bring your newly acclimated character and his magical friends back to the real world where they must learn to adapt to life without magic.

  • Discover a powerful source of new magic which disrupts the balance of power in the wonderful world the pov character just acclimated to.

  • Discover a hidden cost to the magic which convinces many to stop casting and develop more conventional solutions to classically magically solved problems.

  • Have forces from the real world invade the magical realm using modern weapons, pushing your pov character into an internal conflict based on his mixed loyalties.

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A character only ever remains as interesting as their weakness.

There are two reasons the initial arc of 'discovering the supernatural' is so effective:

  1. It sets the boundaries and rules for the world your characters interact with.
  2. It gives your characters a very effective weakness: their lack of experience.

The trick to keeping stories and characters interesting, as arcs end and begin, is ensuring that they keep working within the bounds of their own limitations whilst still finding new ways to surprise the reader. Make sure that your storylines allow your character to truly explore their weaknesses. This can be something as simple as a personality flaw, or a literal limit to their power. How can they fight the challenges that face them whilst still struggling within the bounds of their weaknesses? What creative ways do their enemies exploit these weaknesses? This is what makes a compelling story.

Make sure that your characters never become unbeatable. All characters fall, all must fail at times. That's what keeps them weak. That's what keeps them real.

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Honestly, as long as you write a compelling stories the character will develop naturally. That isn't just for urban fantasy either.

A good example to read is the Dresden Files. He already knows about the supernatural, but, as an occult detective/wizard, is always learning more. As situations are pushed on him, he learns to become a more mature, wise person.

If the first story is introducing the supernatural. In the next one how they adapted, reacted, and changed. Plus, ongoing development as they deal with the hidden world. People deal with PTSD from getting mugged, imagine being chased by werewolves. The newbie will have to learn, adapt, and grow stronger; and that development won't end until the character looks like Gandalf. Keep your hand on the pulse of your characters thoughts and feelings. Then you'll know where to take them.

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