Character Arcs

A character arc is the status of the character as it unfolds throughout the story, the storyline or series of episodes. Characters begin the story with a certain viewpoint and, through events in the story, that viewpoint changes. Definition courtesy of Wikipedia.

No matter what genre or age group you read, you want to connect to the characters. These stories are the ones you reread and tell your friends about. You know what they share? Characters who have overcome their flaws and weaknesses to triumph in the end.

It doesn't have to be becoming the President or throwing Precious back into the fiery chasm of what was I saying? Oh, your characters can do something little like realize beauty is only skin deep or learn responsibilities. But they have to move the story forward.

Your arc needs to provide conflict to the character and story line. The changes your people go through can be either negative or positive. A good example is Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With The Wind. Scarlett starts out a spoiled young girl and develops into a strong mature woman. I like to think about how I want my characters to be at the end and then write them the opposite at the beginning. It's good to have your people flawed, it gives them somewhere to go and creates more situations for trouble.

Most of the time the character doesn't want to grow and learn. They think they are perfect just the way they are. Don't we all? So, then comes the challenges and obstacles of the character arc. The hard road to redemption your protag or antag must travel down. Hopefully in the end they've done a pretty fine job of it.

I recently came close enough to the end of my first draft to call it finished. Or, in other words, I'm tired of it and want to move on to revision. I skimmed over my characters flaws and weaknesses, sort of making a linear map of their growth through out the wip. I came to the conclusion that my main protag doesn't grow enough. She's not really a bad girl to begin with and by the end she's still the same girl. In revision I'm going to back the story up some and show more of a normal happy life. In the end she will have to mature and just maybe save the world. After all we do need more female super heroes.

Are your Character Arcs bright and loud or are they more subtle? Do you have a problem making a smooth transition to the end? Do you have any tips for others or great links about character arcs?


  1. We do need more female superheroines. I'm strengthening my female lead in my current WIP

  2. My 1st the arc was more subtle. The second, it's much louder. Depends on the story.

  3. Susan,
    You know I think my muse just set off another idea. HHMM female superhero. *twirling my fake moustouche*

    M Pax,
    True, it also depends on the characters basic personality I think. If they are generally loud then I would think you could get away with a screaming-at-you arc. If they are timid then a more subtle arc would work.

  4. Lovely post. There was actually a brilliant post about the character arc recently on another blog as well. Both of you highlighted something importnat - change. The need for a character to show change or growth in some way and not to remain stagnate. Excellent.

  5. I almost see my characters as being on a personal, internal journey, moving from one way of being to something more, or something else. It's the story itself that propels them there.

  6. I think it's good to know where you want your character to end up. Writing the first drafts is a start. See if you at least accomplished the A to B of your character's change, and then go back and see what scenes/events provide the proper motivation to really back the change up.

  7. Ahhhhhh character arc! I always struggle with this - it's so hard to so it in convincing and real way!

  8. This is something I struggle with, too. But, I did read a helpful post on character development on Shannon Messenger's blog and I'm thinking that the better acquainted you are with your MC - the better you'll understand what their journey is/should be. Here's a link - if you're interested:

    Happy Friday!

  9. I love the loud arc and I do try to do them for all my main characters...and sometimes my secondary characters as well.

  10. Hey my lovely blogger buddies. Sorry it took so long to comment back. My childrens' school in full of sick teachers and I sub part time so guess where I've been.

    Thank you. Your right. The character needs to change along with the story.

    Oh thats good. I like the idea of really knowing your character inside and out.

    Yes. Get the story down and hopefuly a rough estimate of your arc and then make it meaty in revision.

    I know right? It's very hard to have your MC become convincingly different person in a short few hundred pages. That's the trick.

    Thanks so much for the link. I'll head over and check it out. Happy Friday to you.

    Sometimes I think the loud arcs can be harder than any to pull off. BUT I love them too. ;)

  11. Hey, just clicked over from Lee's blog.

    Well, my beast of an epic has a variety of arcs to cover. Some of them don't even get touched until the second or third book.

    That of course makes a challenge, given that the character should grow in the first story, but not so much that I have nothing left in the subsequent ones. I hate when writers create new problems for a character in a sequal.

    Because I can see that it was done. The growth must be subtle, so that a reader can actually be surprised to think how much the character has changed over time.

    Anyway... I like your blog and will definitely come back for more.


  12. Hi - I think my are more subtle, but I want the arc to be noticed - def. Nice post. =D

  13. Misha,
    Welcome and glad you could stop by. Hope to see you around more. I would love to learn how to make an arc over a series but I'm not quite there yet. I know I love being surprised when a character changes and I just didnt't see it coming.

    Thanks. Mine are more subtle too but I do love the loud ones too.

  14. Nice to meet you. Characters are so important. Loved your post.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  15. Hi N. R.

    Welcome and hope to see you around. I love a good character. The real meaty complicated ones.

  16. I've started adding more arcs for my MC, and every time something bad happens, she turns into a jerk. Sigh... I'd like my character to be less like me. ;)

  17. SU,

    I know what you mean about your characters not being like you.

  18. Making sure a character grows by the end of the book...yikes...that is a tough one.

    I think the easiest change to accomplish is bringing a character out of a slump.

    After that, I think it's best to just stick to 1 major theme/problem the character faces, otherwise it is too mind boggling to track their growth. Example, 1)accepting new responsibility or 2)admitting they need help or 3)realizing they don't need help.

    Maybe up until now (literally this moment) I had an idea that when a character changes, it's in so many ways and on so many levels that it's too difficult to track. Nope. It all comes down to focusing on that 1 (maybe two) thing.

    That's manageable!


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