What is a character arc?
A Character Arc could also be described as the journey. Remember, every protagonist must have a journey that they experience throughout the storyline. Sometimes, it can be seen in the development of their character or personality they experience. Some examples of this are frequently seen in the aspects of their persona—emotional, physical or psychological.
Why does a character need an arc?
A character arc helps to create believable characters that will always have universal appeal. Without an arc, the character might not be convincing or interesting and could loose the audience. The lead character must go on some kind of transformational journey. If you want your audience to identify with your protagonist, create a complex journey for them to take. Make him or her human. Ask and answer questions like: What is the their goal? Define if it’s emotional or physical. What do they want (want/desire births action) and how will they change (transform) throughout the story?
Examples: Luke Skywalker in the First Star Wars film. He begins his journey as a naïve farm boy with dreams of exploring the solar system. Luke struggles with authority, responsibility and “The Force,” but as the story progresses, obstacles are thrown his way that he has to overcome. By the end of the film, Skywalker is living the dream. He’s fighting villains and saving a princess. How about Elle Woods in Legally Blonde? She begins her journey on a quest to become Warner’s wife, a goal that is never met, but interrupted by her journey to FULL TRANSFORMATION, which takes place at Harvard Law School. Elle ends up at the top of her class, fully realized, with the promise of a job with a top law firm in Boston and the better guy. What more could a “not-so-dumb” blonde girl ask for, right?
*Note: Character arcs are for the main characters. Very often the antagonist will have an arc too. They need to have their own life journey—even if it’s evil, which makes them seem more real-to-life.
How to Figure Out Your Character’s Arc
Many a story begins with a great character. That flash of inspiration that says I have to write a story about this person. Yet, so many stories stall out just short of that all-important finish line. Why is that?
The answer can often be traced to misplaced focus. So much attention is placed on fleshing out the character and providing them with greater and greater sources of escalating conflict, which the basic logic of their actual arc breaks down. In fact, sometimes it’s not even there at all.
Structure your character arcs by asking three pivotal questions:
1) What do they WANT? This is a tangible, attainable goal. Admittedly, it gets interrupted by the antagonist repeatedly, but it is attained in the end.
2) What do they NEED? This is the underlying motivation driving their main want? The complexity of human psychology often reveals that our outer wants are inversely related to our inner needs. For example, Elle Woods believes that there’s no other man for her in the world, EXCEPT Warner, however, when she shows up at Harvard Law School, she’s in for a rude awakening. Not only does she experience the reality check of her life, she is suddenly aware of how Warren is NOT the guy she thought he was. She inwardly wants a boyfriend/serious relationship, but it’s not really with Warren.
3) What’s the issue with this character? In other words…what’s the FLAW? A flawed character is always going to be more compelling and easier to relate to than someone who appears to be perfect. That’s simply not realistic.
Note: There is a simple dynamic that exists within all Main Characters, defined by the chasm between a problem and a solution.