Designing a character arc
There are different forms a character arc can take. And different ways to create one. But if you’re struggling, I have a few tips on designing an arc for your character.
1. Where does your character start?
- Where are they in life? What are their ambitions and dreams?
- What are their main traits?
- Most importantly: what is their biggest character flaw/shortcoming. For a character arc, this should be something that can be changed or that shows potential.
- What is the one thing keeping your character from being the best they can be? What is the unrealized potential of your character?
- We’ll call this point A
- For example, let’s say your MC is very childish and self-centered
2. They should end at the opposite of point A
- No, this doesn’t mean an angry character should suddenly be a meek little lamb.
- It means that your character has managed to work on that flaw, has overcome their biggest weakness. Has fulfilled their potential.
- Take point A and make it shinier, healthier, better, nicer etc.
- Let’s call this point Z
- Going with our example, this would mean that the character has learnt to be mature when they need to be and has come to be considerate of others’ needs.
- This is where your character should be by the end of the story. This is the goal of the arc.
3. Which events/plot points will help your character get from point A to point Z?
- Your character can’t just spontaneously transform from A to Z. The development needs to be believable and organic.
- So, what can happen to the character to bring about this change progressively? Who can they meet? Do they fall in love? Lose someone important? Find a family? Go through war? The possibilities are endless.
- The first event is usually your inciting incident (Point B) , which takes the character away from their regular life and comfort zone. Something around them has to change before they can start to change.
- The change shouldn’t occur in a single event, however. It should be gradual.
- In our example, the character could be exposed to the suffering of others, meet a compassionate love interest, be forced to take responsibility etc.
4. Breaking point
- Most good books have a character breaking point. The point where your character has lost everything and is down in the dumps.
- The breaking point presents the final choice: give up or go on
- This should be your character’s final point before they are transformed into Z. (point Y if you will)
- Overcoming rock bottom is what will eventually make your character the best they can be.
5. Big picture
- So, eventually your character arc should look like this: A > B (inciting incident) > event C > event D etc > Y (breaking point) > Z
This is a very simple way to design an arc. Obviously, you can create one that’s much more complex. But I hope that these basics can be helpful.
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