Every story needs a character arc

by Hank Quense

Basically, there are two types of character arcs. One concerns itself with what great lesson the main character(s) learn over the course of the story. The second is what changes in the life of the character(s) as a result of the events in the story.

The character arc applies to the antagonist as well as the protagonist. That assumes the bad guy is still alive after the story ends. If the antagonist is dead, well, maybe he did learn something, but it was a bit too late to be useful.

If there is no character arc then everything after the story ends is the same as before the story began. Nothing happened, in other words. The only thing that changed is that the characters got older. A story without a character arc is an incomplete and unsatisfactory story.

The character arc can be physical or mental or both, but a mental character arc is more interesting than a physical one. In a mental character arc, the character learned an important lesson. In a physical one, the character’s situation changed for better or worse.

To get a deeper understanding for character arcs, we can look at a few examples.

• A character starts out as a bigot, but during the course of the story, learns to be less bigoted and becomes more open-minded.
• Another example concerns itself with a proud or pompous (or both) character who gets humbled as the story unfolds.
• A lazy character gets motivated.
• A character evolves from an uninterested bystander or a follower into the leader of a movement.

Here are examples of a great character arc from the movies.

• In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker evolves from a rustic farm boy into a Jedi knight (and it only took three movies for that to happen).
• In Lord of the Rings, both the books and the movies, Frodo evolves. As a result of his journey, he changes from an inexperienced youth to a strong-minded, decisive young man (or hobbit, to be more precise).

This article was extracted from my book Creating Stories.

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