How do you write a character arc?

Writing a character arc aids in plot development. A good transformation guide includes data on your character's goals, high and low points. Here are five steps and examples to help you create a dynamic character journey:

Find your character's first target

Interesting first goals develop from interesting starting situations. The situation of your opening story could be:

  • An unbearable situation from which the main character wants to escape
  • An arrival or surprise that promises new adventures
  • An encounter with a stranger

A good starting point for creating your character arc is a situation that involves large unknowns. This uncertainty creates narrative tension. This tension is what distinguishes a good story from a bland one.

A character's first goal stems from the wishes and goals set at the beginning of your story, for example, in the story of “Cinderella, "the protagonist desires to escape her stepmother's misery, cruelty, and tyranny, to attend a dance that the region's prince will soon hold.

To make early goals intriguing encourages the following:

  • It suggests obstacles: in Cinderella, the reader wonders how a girl dressed in rags can go to a luxurious ball and how the stepmother will respond if she finds out about this wish.
  • Add Risk: What is at stake if a character fails to achieve their goal? For Cinderella, it is to remain in her unfair situation.
  • Shows the Characters: What do a character's first targets tell us about their wishes, fears, hopes, and dreams?

Add secondaries that help or hinder during the character arc

Many great character arcs are filled with many others that help (or hinder) the protagonist's journey.

Sometimes supporting characters do a bit of both.

For example, Boromir in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings is a central member of Frodo's group. He is "the muscle," joining them to lend his fighting ability as they close in on the villain's heart. However, Boromir is overpowered by the corrupting force of the magical ring that Frodo is sent to destroy. That's why he tries to take it away from Frodo. "Helper" character types can therefore become obstacles, and vice versa.

As you outline supporting characters that influence each other's arcs, give them complex strengths and weaknesses.

Find the point of no return

Think of the character arc as a roller coaster. This metaphor for unpredictability can be a bit of a cliché. However, it captures that moment when, after the “clack, clack” of the ascent, you reach the top of the ride, and there is no way down. You are tied to the following turns and fears of high speed.

A great character arc has these qualities. It has speed. The change happens. Not always at the same pace. Sometimes it's a slow and noisy ascent. Sometimes it's that brief, harrowing pause before the dizzying descent. A point of no return, where your character fully commits to a plan, goal, or path, creates a focus for the story ahead. For a good, cohesive arc, focus not only on the first goal but the end goals of the characters as well.

For Cinderella, the first goal is to get to the ball. The ultimate goal is to conquer the prince and thus find love to replace a loveless home. Points of no return like this are powerful because they often involve emotional states like fear, anger, or defiance. As readers, we identify by having experienced similar emotions ourselves.

How to create a compelling point of no return in a character arc?

  • It gives the characters irreversible choices: in a romance, it may be choosing to seek contact and connection with a third person.
  • It begins to reveal consequences: How might a character's initial choices complicate their current situation?

Consider the plot points that ascend and descend from this point: These circumstances have more ups and downs. They move your character closer to or away from his targets.

For example, a fairy godmother comes to Cinderella's aid in Cinderella. His magical ability is the strength he lends. Cinderella wouldn't be able to make a stunning entrance at the ball without the help of a witch.

The godmother's weakness, however, is that magic has limitations. Cinderella's luxurious wardrobe and carriage, conjured up by the godmother, will be returned to her normal state at midnight. These constraints help ensure that Cinderella's character arc does not rise too quickly to her goals. Nevertheless, the sense of urgency and limitation maintains the narrative tension.

Character arc charts growth and change

The intriguing character arc depicts how the characters evolve and change. For example, when an assassin completes his first mission and realizes he can get away with it, he may become more daring and brave.

The key to bringing action and reaction to your story is growth and change. Great stories demonstrate how a single event spreads and produces predictable (or unexpected) outcomes.

Character development and change can either help or hinder the pursuit of their goals. Hermione Granger, for example, is established from the start as the intelligent and studious 'know-it-all.' However, learning to break the rules for the greater good is part of Hermione's arc.

This type of character arc reveals that a character's strengths (for example, Hermione's discipline) are frequently accompanied by "dark" sides or drawbacks (for example, Hermione's fussy, rule-bound nature).

Bring internal and external conflicts to a head

Conflict is essential for creating a good character arc. Internally, a character may struggle with doubt, blunder, or other emotional charges. They may also encounter conflicts with others (individual characters or society as a whole) or their surroundings.

Show how the characters overcome or succumb to adversity, regardless of the main conflicts in your story. For example, character arc conflicts result in the following:

  • Narrative suspense: How will the conflict be resolved? The reader has to know the answer.
  • Food for change: How could your character adapt to conflicts or acquire new abilities? Are they wiser? Hardest? More vulnerable? More self-aware?
  • Characterization: How your characters respond to conflict situations gives us an idea of ​​their personality.

In The Lord of the Rings, the ring's destruction is this endpoint (although the heroes still return home to find more conflicts have multiplied in their absence). Once you have an idea of ​​your core conflicts, you will have everything you need to create a detailed outline of your story idea.

Recommended book to improve your characters:

  • The art of creating characters: In the narrative, film, and television

Here are resources I recommend to get more in-depth knowledge

Storytelling 101 teaches you how to write compelling stories worthy of commercial success. This is best for screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, videogame writers and storytellers.

Children’s Books 101 teaches you how to write stories that children will love. This is best for aspiring children’s book authors and storytellers.

Owl AI is the revolutionary AI-powered content production platform that helps storytellers, writers, and bloggers of all subject matter easily create highly-polished content.

Success, Money & Mindset Subliminal is a self-hypnosis recording that we recommend to new writers to help with focus, concentration, creativity, and motivation.

Shadow Work Journal: 240 Daily Prompts contains inner work exercises related to relationships, anger, anxiety, self-love, healing trauma, abandonment issues, depression, forgiveness, etc.


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