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Character Arcs – An Intrinsik Element of your Story

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If you’ve been writing for some time you are most likely familiar with the “Character Arc”. In short, your character will transition during the course of your story – from the beginning to the final scene in your story. The basis for the arc transformation is:

  1. Your protagonist starts out one way in the story.
  2. Lessons are learned during the story that move the character to change.
  3. Your protagonist changes – usually for the better – by the end of the story.

Great examples of character arcs include:

  • Scrooge: A miserable geezer who goes from hating the world, loving money and hating Christmas – to loving Christmas and helping people.
  • Shrek: The ogre starts off by hiding in a swamp, tired of being rejected – and transitions to a reluctant hero.
  • The Godfather: Michael Corleone goes from wanting nothing to do with the “family business” going as far as joining the army – to eventually becoming the head of the crime syndicate.

What you may not know about fashioning good arcs

One mistake many writers make when developing their character arcs is relating the change to what your character wants – as opposed to what your character needs. For instance, I watched a movie recently where the character was poor to begin with and eventually became a multi-millionaire. This movie was as boring as they could get. One of two problems made this story boring. First, either the writer had no understanding of character transition or looked at the external transition as justification. In actuality, the writer did not develop the internal need for the character.

Effectively, there are TWO simultaneous mechanisms happening in your story:

  1. The first, is the EXTERNAL want your character desires. In Ready Player One (written by by Ernest Cline), Wade Watts played by Tye Sheridan (in the movie version of the novel), wants to find the Easter egg hidden in a virtual reality universe. This is what he wants. He thinks his life will be complete if he finds it, etc. However, it’s not what he needs.
  2. What Wade Watts needs in Ready Player One – is to learn that he doesn’t need to hide behind an avatar persona. That life is much better and exciting in the real world.

Theme and Character Arcs

Some could argue that Character Arcs are related to the theme of your story. I’ll even go as far to say that they are intrinsically linked. In the novel Ready Player One the main theme is staying true to oneself. Throughout the story character’s are hiding their true selves behind something their not. By the end of the story Wade learns that hiding is not the answer to life. See the connection?

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