How to Write a Negative Character Arc

In this post, we go over how to write a negative character arc.

How to Write a Negative Character Arc

The negative character arc is the story of a character who ends up in a worse place than where they started. Weiland says that the negative arc can take three different forms.

This is brilliant because it cuts down on how you can make a negative arc and makes it more flexible. You can choose which bad arc to use in your story based on your character and plot.

For example, two of the characters in my story go through bad changes, and I'm excited to write about them. Negative arcs can help you tell stories that your readers will remember. If you can do that, your stories and characters will stay in the minds of your readers for a very long time.

3 Elements of a Negative Character Arc

  • The disillusionment arc
  • The fall arc
  • The corruption arc

The Disillusionment Arc

This arc is much like the positive arc in that the character has to find out the truth, just like in the positive arc. But unlike the positive arc, where finding the truth is good and helps the character live a better life, the negative arc ends badly.

In the disillusionment arc, the truth will break the character's illusions that they have had since the beginning of the story. At the story's beginning, the character has a positive outlook on life.

However, once they discover the truth, their outlook on life becomes pessimistic. Their life is worse when they find out the truth than when they thought the lie was true.

The Fall Arc

The character lives in their lie, similar to the positive/change arc. However, when the truth is shown to the character, they will always refuse to accept it.

Because of their sins, your character will fall deeper and deeper into the dark hole, dragging others with them.

A terrible thing will happen to the main character. Either go crazy, do bad things all the time, or die.

Most of the time, a big lesson is taught to the reader during the falling arc. It makes the reader think, "What if?" "What will happen to the main character if they never accept the truth and stick to their lie?"

Taking your reader on your main character's dangerous journey can leave a deep impression on them.

The Corruption Arc

The corruption storyline is a lot of fun. It's the exact opposite of the other two.

When I first heard it, I didn't understand it, but when Weiland used Anakin from the Star Wars prequel to explain it, it all made sense. The character knows the truth at first, and so does the world they live in.

Okay, so what do we need to do here?

You might think, "The character lives in a perfect world, so how does this become a negative arc?" It should have a happy ending, right?

The difference is that the character falls for the lie and starts to believe it. The main character goes from loving the truth to loving the lie to hating the truth. Think of it as the opposite of the positive/change arc.

With a positive/change arc, the truth and the lie are inside the character, and they need to find them. The lie is also part of the character.

In the positive arc, they reject the lie and embrace the truth. In the negative/corruption arc, they reject the truth and embrace the lie.

This is like the person's darkness taking over rather than their light. We all have both light and dark parts, but one is stronger than the other. Same concept.

The most interesting thing about this arc is that the character starts good, or has the potential to be good and kind, etc. But they choose to follow a dark path and accept bad things.

So, the question is, what makes someone choose darkness instead of staying true to good and the truth?


The lie the character believes

When a character has a negative arc, the lie they believe is usually about something they already have but don't value. There will be something good in your character's life, but he or she will not appreciate it. Your character might even be willing to give up something good in their life to go after the lie's false promise.

Weiland thinks this, but I think the character's lie can be similar to the lie the character thinks in the positive/change arc. In the positive arc, the character believes a lie because he or she is missing something in their life. The character can still feel empty, and the lie's promise to fill that void or solve their problems can lead to a bad turn in the story.

Even when the truth is right in front of them, and they have a chance to accept it, they don't. The lie is so appealing to them that they fall into the darkside.

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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