Fiction Writing Tips: How to Make a Character Arc
There are two types of characters: static characters, and round characters. The difference between these two types of characters is simple: round characters experience change, static characters don’t. While a round character may go through a dramatic change or realization throughout the course of the story line, a static character never will. A static character will always stay the same.
Essentially, a static character will never experience a character arc. By using a static character as your main character, you lose that opportunity. This doesn’t mean that it’s a bad idea to use a static character in your story, but you do run the risk of making your character less likable. Readers like imperfect characters that can grow. However, there are always exceptions. For instance, you may be trying to write an unorthodox story, or you may be trying to prove a point with your story. You may not even want the readers to like your character. Whatever the case, choose a character that will help your story move.
So, say you’ve chosen a round character. Now you have to develop a character arc for him to follow as the story progresses. Where do you go from there?
What is a Character Arc?
Essentially a character arc is a path of growth and development that the character takes throughout a story. Whether he takes this path of his own free will or not, he should wrestle with and overcome some sort of fear, or limitation.
The Right Character
No character should be perfect. A realistic and likable character will have imperfections and weaknesses, just like a regular person. This is crucial, because it will help the reader to relate to your character, and keep reading. The character should have some tragic flaw that he overcomes by the end of the story. At the very least, he should grow in some way or another. Just remember that you’re character is human, and remember to stay honest to him. His actions should be believable.
Character Arc and Conflict
The character arc often relates to an inner conflict that the character is experiencing. Inner conflict can be defined as a war with oneself. There are many possibilities for inner conflict; good or evil, war or peace, love or hate, etc.. The character arc will decide the outcome of said inner conflict, and will ultimately decide what your character chooses. The character arc will also effect how your character reacts to outer conflicts, and how he may make the situation better or worse.
The Hero’s Journey: Formula for a Character Arc
The Hero’s Journey, essentially, is a character arc formula. It also relates to the general path that and epic story should take. Many famous stories follow this path, such as Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Harry Potter. Note, that this is a very basic summary of the Hero’s Journey. If you’d like a more in-depth explanation, try reading: “The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition“. Included are a couple diagrams representing the hero’s journey, and the hero’s inner development.
In each stage of the Hero’s Journey, there are several steps the hero must take before reaching the next stage. Those steps are represented in the diagrams to the left. For the purpose of this blog post, I’m going to ignore each individual step (for now, I plan on going into more detail on the Hero’s Journey in future blog posts), and summarize each stage.
The Departure phase deals with the hero’s adventure prior to the quest. In the beginning of the story, the hero is unsatisfied or bored with his current life. He experiences a “Call to Adventure”; destiny is calling him to leave his current life and pursue his new adventure. He becomes aware that something needs to change. At first he refuses the call, for fear or hesitation, until a mentor or a driving force convinces him otherwise. So, the hero accepts the call, and begins his quest. The hero experiences his final separation from his world and himself.
He shows that he’s willing to undergo a change. This is where his character arc begins.
In the “initiation” phase, the hero experiences a number of challenges on the way to his ultimate goal. In the beginning of this stage the hero will undergo a number of trials that further progress his character arc. The hero then meets with “The Goddess” or, the love of his life. He then experiences temptations that may cause him to stray from his ultimate goal or path. Upon overcoming the temptation, he moves into the central part of his adventure. Here, the hero encounters a force that holds incredible power in his life. After the encounter, the hero transcends into a state of peace, knowledge, and fulfillment. He then achieves his goal, and obtains what he went on his journey to get.
The “Return” deals with the part of the story where the hero returns to his home with the knowledge and power he’s found on his journey. But having found those things on his journey, he may be hesitant to return home. Or, some force may be trying to prevent him from leaving. Often, it’s just as dangerous returning from the journey as it was achieving the ultimate goal. From there, he’ll often need guidance to return home, retain, and spread the wisdom he’s gained along the way. The character needs to find a balance between his home world, and the world outside it. He then needs to obtain freedom, from fear, death, or weakness. This is where he transcends, and completes his character arc.
3 Types of Character Arcs
Your hero should transform in a way that’s unique to him. Here are some examples of character arcs, but keep in mind that there are endless possibilities, depending on your hero’s characteristics.
The “Stubborn” Hero
This is the character that stubbornly holds onto a certain belief or attitude, usually one that’s wrong or immoral. For the beginning part of the story, he refuses to think any other way. As the story
progresses, he gradually begins to see things the other way, until his opinion changes entirely.
The “Conflicted” Hero
This character also suffers from a belief that may be wrong or immoral. However, this character suffers from an internal conflict that builds throughout the story. Evidence keeps building that his original frame of mind is incorrect. At the end of the story, he should take a leap of faith, and choose one or the other.
The “Tragic” Hero
This is the character that, usually struggling from an internal conflict, falls in a downward spiral throughout the story. He experiences change, but the change isn’t good, and he ultimately makes the wrong decision… leading towards a tragic ending.
Creating Your Own Character Arc
This article is intended only to help writers create their own character arcs. While it’s safe to follow a formula, it might not be the best thing for your character, or your story. Choose what works best for your story, and stick with that. If what’s best completely eliminates “formula”, and “rules”, don’t panic. Sometimes the unorthodox approach is the best approach.