Deeper Development with Character Arcs

We have talked about how to create a character and how to have a better understanding of the character(s) you have made. In this final lesson, we will learn about character arcs. In a story, a reader will see how the character changes throughout the book or passage. A character arc is the state of the character as the story unravels. It is the growth of a character. There are many examples of character arcs that are seen in literature, movies, and television shows. Usually, a character arc is seen with the protagonist (Remember--the protagonist is the main character!), but it can be seen in other characters in a storyline. Of course, it helps to point them out to fully understand.

Let's take a look at the movie, Shrek. Shrek is seen as a lonely and angry green ogre who is a recluse (someone who keeps to himself or herself) due to how people treat him. Along the way, he meets characters like Donkey and Princess Fiona to pull himself out of his loneliness. At the end of the movie, he is more sociable, finds a companion in Princess Fiona, and realizes that beauty is in the inside. This is the perfect example as to how the status of a character changes from cranky loner to happy ogre.

There are individual character arcs that are present in many stories. Here are a few general kinds:

  1. “Good to Bad” arc: the character is coming from a good position to a bad position (ex: a baseball team that plays well in the beginning of the season, but ends with a losing game).
  2. “Bad to Good” arc: the character is coming from a bad position to a good position (ex: In the movie, Matilda, Matilda is living in a unloving household and treated unfairly, but at the end, ends up in a home that is filled with love and happiness). This is the most common arc with protagonists.
  3. Constant arc: no change occurs with the character (ex: A trouble-making kid faces many chances of changing his ways, but continues to start trouble at the end of the story).

When it comes to making your own arc, you have to remember some of key points. These points can help improve your story-making. You don’t have to follow all of these points, but they can aid your storytelling along the way:

  • When it comes to writing a story, there should be a problem, or conflict. In the movie Shrek, one of the conflicts was Shrek’s fear of not being liked or respected by other people (especially by Princess Fiona) because he is an ogre. That is called the inner conflict; it is what goes on inside the character. The outer conflict is what goes on outside of the character. The outer conflict is Shrek needing to stop the wedding between Princess Fiona and Lord Farquaad. Also, making sure the fairy-tale characters that were kicked out of the kingdom can go back to where they live. That way, Shrek can have his swamp back.
  • The character experiences some kind of failure or problem. This is about how a character reacts to the situation.
  • The character continues to face problems, but since they happen so much, the character, is used to them.
  • After seeing failures and realizes why they happen, the character learns to act or think differently and succeeds in the end (or doesn't, depending on which arc you choose).
  • When making a character arc, you must remember that it has to sound believable. You want a smooth development from point A to point B.
  • Blueprint your story. In other words, carefully write down the steps that take where your character is currently at to where you want the character to be. Don’t rush it.

Writing Prompt:

Create a character arc. Use any of the examples/definitions to help you.