Character arc

by Mrignayni Pandey
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On writing the character arc of the story

From Vince Gilligan’s ‘Breaking Bad’ that sacked all of the viewers preconceptions of Walter White to Toy Story’s Buzz and Woody that broke the cliched notion of changing only one character’s behavior in the story arc, every writer knows the importance of a compelling character arc in a story.

For those writers who have been living under a rock all this while, a character arc refers to the transformation of a character’s personality (physically and emotionally) over the course of the story. Building character arcs, like other elements in a novel has got much to do with craft and creativity. The more conflicted, complicated and closer to evoking real-life emotions the characters are, the more are the chances of it making the story a success.

But creating a compelling character-arc for a story is no rocket-science. We are going to wrap our heads around hacking the process to build strong and amazing character arcs, discuss all the tips and tricks and see some of the great examples out there.

So, come on. Let’s head on with the process.

How to go about developing a character arc

1.Introduce the characters to the readers/viewers:

Memorable character introductions will attract readers. Introduce your characters in your story in a way that builds empathy and real-life emotional connections with the reader. Tell the readers how your central character is seen by the minor characters or make them introduce themselves directly to the readers. Tell them about their mundane life or idiosyncratic habits and consider using a backstory if it gives a good start to your story or makes your readers feel your empathetic towards your characters.

Look at how Buzz Lightyear’s character is introduced in the Toy story.

On writing the character arc of the story

2.Put them in the situation of the conflict:

You cannot show the readers the shortcomings of their present personality traits and the problems of continuing with them unless you put them in a situation of conflict that makes the decision of their personality transformation inevitable.

Mrignayni's tips


On writing the character arc of the story

3.Capture the response:

Show how the character is taking the course towards a transformation. Make the readers anticipate the change in your character’s personality. The expectations of the readers can or cannot be meet. This depends on the turn of events that the writer wants the story to take.

Mrignayni's tips on writing a character arc


On writing the character arc of the story

4.Change course:

Slowly ease into the change the characters are making in their lives.

Mrignayni's tips


5.Capture the response of his/her newer version:

Show how your characters feel with their newer selves and the glaring contradiction with the previous version of themselves.

Mrignayni's tips on writing a character arc


6.The dilemma of continuing with the change:

Make the characters face the conflict of deciding between which version of themselves they want to stay with.

Mrignayni's tips


7.The Change:

Engage with the other characters and elucidate the reception of the newer version of your character.

Mrignayni's tips

You can also show the rise and fall between the older version and the newer version of your characters.

Put them in situations where they fail to come to terms with their newer selves. Proffer compelling plots to your central character where they slip back to their older versions.

8.Do they change?

Resolve the question of if they did change in the end.

Mrignayni's tips on writing a character arc


9.What next?

With their fullfilled newer selves, open up the question of what your characters want to do with this change.

Mrignayni's tips on writing a character arc


So now that we now the steps of making a character arcs, let’s dive into the four forms of character arcs in any story!

Types of character arc

While the classification of character arcs might vary from source to source. Though I do not like pigeonholing creative process like writing, I have discussed four major types of character arcs in a story.

1.The change or transformative character arcs

In this type of character arc, the character usually comes to know himself and his/her talents and emotional resources for taking charge of their situations. There are no antagonistic forces at work that can stall the growth of the character’s personality.

Bilbo Baggin’s character in the Lord of Rings is a very good example of a transformative character arc in a story.

character arc of Bilbo Bggins


On writing the character arc of the story

As the name suggests the characters undergo transformation that makes they emerge victorious at the end of the story. However, if this is not the case then we can have one of the three character arcs in our story.

2.The growth or maturation character arcs

When the central character learns the flaws in his approach to the conflict and grows emotionally to fulfill them, it becomes a maturation character arc. The untoward circumstances and antagonist forces help the character mature and triumph in the end.

Sansa Stark’s character in the Game of Thrones is a classic example of a maturing character arc!

character arc of Sansa Stark


On writing the character arc of the story

3.The shift or alteration character arcs

Unlike in a maturation character arc, the alteration arc resembles a flat arc with just a small shift in the understanding of the character without any change in his beliefs and actions.

Ellis Redding’s character in The Shawshank Redemption resembles a shifting character arc.

character arc of Ellis Redding


On writing the character arc of the story

4.The fall arc or declining arc

When our characters come to lead the evil and dark forces in the end, and damns their personality in the course of a story, we know that the character is following a falling character arc.

The infamous Walter White of the Breaking Bad series is a classic example of this!

character arc of Walter White


On writing the character arc of the story

Enjoyed reading the article? Let me know what you think about it? I would love to hear it from you!

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