The Writer’s Bag of Tricks

Character Arc

Typically, when writers think Character Arc they think of the main character’s inner transformation. In other words, the lead character starts with a specific point of view, but because of the need to change their beliefs in order to address the conflicts that arise, the main character is a different person by the end of the story. This is a simplified interpretation, but it will due.

The purpose of the Character Arc is to keep the tension on the page high and to keep the story moving forward. Note that characters who do not change are considered fatally flawed and are tragic characters (Think McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), unless the character is already good (Think James Bond, or Braveheart).

There are different kinds of Character Arcs and it is ideal if you choose the kind of Character Arc that works best with your plot type and story structure.

A Change Arc is where the main character changes from an unlikely protagonist to a hero (Think Bilbo Baggins who was a reluctant hobbit hired to be a burglar but ended up the hero of the story in The Hobbit). This kind of transformation is radical and may include all aspects of the character.

A Growth Arc is where the main character overcomes personal failings during the continual conflict and becomes a better person (think Charlie Babbit who was a selfish-money-hungry-car-salesman but who gave up his selfish ways to support his special needs older brother in Rain Man).

A Fall Arc is where the main character believes something that isn’t true and then makes bad choices repeatedly because of that faulty belief, which then leads to corruption, disillusionment, insanity, or death (Think Anikin Skywalker in Star Wars who believed the lie that his wife could be saved from death if he chose the Dark Side).

To work out your Character Arc, you do need to consider what kind of person you want your character to be at both the beginning and the end of your story. You must also know who they are, where they came from, why they are in your story to begin with, and also how you want them to change so you can incorporate the best kind of Character Arc for your character and story. Note that you can have multiple Character Arcs in your story. Your antagonist may have a Character Arc as well as other characters. This will make your story more complex, on the plus side. On the minus side, this will make your story more complex. In other words, you definitely need the story structure in place to do this well.

Ask yourself questions and incorporate them into the Plot Structure to help you create your Character Arc. Work the Character Arc into the story with a Scene and Sequel structure unless you can seamlessly write both internal and external conflict. And remember GMC, too, when working on character creation and arc.

  • What are your character’s traits (Opening Scene)
  • How are the character traits faulty (Other Complications)
  • What happens internally to trigger the character to question their beliefs (The Point of No Return)
  • What does the character think of the faulty beliefs (Other Complications)
  • What is the main belief that the character must discard in order to change (The Main Complication)
  • What new belief is born or how has the belief changed (The Climax)
  • Show how the character has changed (the Ending)

Note that the Character Arc, story structure, and the theme are linked. I expect that much more thought and planning went into your favorite novel than you ever realized. But you can do it too. I have faith in you.

Next time: Scene and Sequel

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