A crucial component of screenwriting is the character arc. It describes a character's journey from the movie's start to its conclusion. It includes the physical and emotional changes a character experiences. A compelling character arc can make a movie more memorable and ensure the audience's investment. If you want to learn more about character arcs, you've come to the right place!
Keep reading for more information and to see examples of character arcs.
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What are character arcs?
A character arc is a journey a character takes from the story's start to the end. The three portions of this journey are the setup, transformation, and resolution.
The setup is where the character is introduced, and their flaws or shortcomings are established; it marks the beginning of the character's arc. The transformation occurs in the middle of the story when the character faces challenges and obstacles that they must learn to overcome. The resolution for the character arc occurs at the end when the character has changed and completed their story.
The development of a character arc can be subtle or dramatic, as well as constructive or destructive. For instance, a character can begin as a self-centered person and become a selfless hero, or they might begin as a happy person and finish up jaded and cynical. A character's arc encompasses both their internal development and their exterior trip.
What are the three types of character arcs?
The three common types of character arcs are a positive character arc, a negative character arc, and a flat character arc.
Positive Character Arc
A positive character arc is when a character experiences a journey of personal development and improvement and ultimately ends up better in some way. This arc is the most prevalent and is frequently connected to the hero's journey. An example of a positive character is Rocky Balboa from the film "Rocky." He starts as a struggling boxer but wins the championship by the film's end.
Negative Character Arc
A negative character arc is when a character descends into a worse-off state than when we first met them. This story arc is frequently connected to the antagonist or the anti-hero. An example of a negative character arc is in "The Godfather" when Michael Corleone becomes head of his criminal family when he initially wanted nothing to do with the family business.
Flat Character Arc
A flat character arc is when a character doesn't develop much during the narrative. This arc is usually linked to minor characters or characters who don't have a substantial impact on the plot. These characters might come across as stereotypical or one-dimensional. Superman is often depicted as a flat character with no real change from the film's beginning to the end. This is especially true in the older 1970's and 1980's Superman films.
Examples of Character Arcs
The Shawshank Redemption
"The Shawshank Redemption" written by Frank Darabont provides an example of a positive character arc. Tim Robbins' Andy Dufresne initially comes across as a shy, humble man who has been wrongly accused of murder. Over the course of the film, he becomes confident and determined. He breaks out of jail and establishes his innocence. By the movie's end, he has attained his goal of becoming free and helps his friends by demonstrating the importance of perseverance. You can read the script here.
Another positive character arc can be seen in the movie "Forrest Gump," written by Eric Roth. Tom Hanks' character Forrest begins as a simple man with a low IQ. Throughout the movie, he deals with various difficulties, such as serving in the Vietnam War and mourning the death of his best friend. By the movie's end, he has developed into a wise, sympathetic, and successful man.
The characters in "The Shawshank Redemption" and "Forrest Gump" undergo a considerable metamorphosis during their movies. Not all characters require dramatic character arcs; sometimes, a more subtle arc is needed—for example, Regina George in "Mean Girls," written by Tina Fey. Being hit by a bus likely did change some of her mean girl ways, but it's implied that she's still the same forceful, ruthless, self-focused Regina at heart. She doesn't change much over the course of the film, but just enough to allow peace amongst the friend groups.
A character arc should be clear and believable
Character relatability and clear objectives are two additional important elements of character development. The character's objective should be clear to the reader, and they should want them to succeed. Giving the character a specific objective important to the narrative can help achieve this. For example, Will Smith's character, Christopher Gardener, in "The Pursuit of Happyness" by Steven Conrad is a single father who struggles but wants to provide his son with a better life. The audience can relate to this objective and comprehend why he is prepared to go to any lengths to get it.
The character's credible change is another crucial component of the character arc. The character should not change drastically overnight. Whether it be a personal tragedy, or a lesson learned from life, the character needs to be motivated to improve. Their transformation must be believable to the audience.
It's crucial to take the character's motivation, ambitions, and how they evolve over the narrative into account while developing a character arc. Consider the relationship between the character's arc and the story's theme and overarching message. You want your character arcs to entertain the audience and deeply resonate with them. I hope this blog helps the next time you're developing your characters! Happy writing!