Character Part 2: Arc
An “arc” tracks the change a character goes through from the beginning of the story to the end.
A character can’t go through an ordeal without some kind of change. It’s inevitable. And that’s what your story is, something happening, an ordeal, in the lives of your characters.
An arc is the clearly defined evolution of your character as a consequence of having gone through the ordeal.
It begins with who they were before the story began, and ends with who they are coming out the other side of it.
How do you do it?
How do you execute a character arc? There are a bunch of different ways. But the most effective and straight forward method:
Track one of your main character’s flaws and show how they learn and develop to overcome it.
Now, your story doesn’t always have to go this way:
Maybe your main character doesn’t overcome this flaw – like in a tragedy.
Or if it helps the theme of your story, maybe your main character learns to accept his flaw as a fixed part of his being. His arc is to go from fighting his nature, to accepting it as unchangeable.
There is also the rare “anti-character-arc.”
This is where your character has no real need for growth, and thus doesn’t change at all. While everything and everyone changes around them.
These are all options.
Let’s take a closer look at a simple set up:
Your main character overcoming a flaw.
First, you have to establish the flaw at the beginning of your story.
Let’s say a moral one like: racism. Your main character is a racist.
The events of your story then force this character to hang out with someone of a different race. They bond, they become friends, and finally at the end of the story the character learns that his racism is deeply flawed and must be abandoned.
He goes from racist –> to not racist.
This is a very basic model. One that we’ll get into a bit deeper when we talk about the “moral” cubby.
But for now, we can see that this example may be straight forward, but nevertheless – it’s a solid character arc. The character has changed in a concrete way, as a consequence of going through the story.
No matter the kind of arc you’re using, as long as the character starts the story one way, and ends the story another way, you’ve got yourself an arc.