When I first delved into scriptwriting and the art of storytelling, character arcs seemed like an intimidating puzzle. It took me time but I’ve cracked the code and broken it down into simple steps that will have you mastering character arcs in no time. So let’s embark on this adventure together, with a sprinkle of fun and a dash of excitement, as we demystify the magic behind character arcs.
All in all, we are talking about 7 steps that take place in every Character Arc which takes them from “Ordinary” to “Extraordinary”
Here are the 7 steps:
#1: The Starting Point – Where It All Begins.
Picture this: a character chilling in their comfort zone, sipping on a milkshake while the world goes by.
Think “Spider-Man: Homecoming” where our friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man, aka Peter Parker, starts off as a high school student dealing with the everyday struggles of adolescence. Even if your high school years have long gone, you can still relate, right?
Or take Bilbo Baggins from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” Bilbo starts as a timid and unadventurous hobbit, comfortable in his cosy hole in the Shire. This initial state allows us to understand the character’s baseline and sets the stage for the transformation to come.
#2: The Catalyst: Shake, Rattle, and Roll!
Now, let’s throw in a twist! Imagine a lightning bolt striking your character’s world, turning it upside down.
Think about Thomas Anderson, a computer programmer living a seemingly ordinary life in the movie “The Matrix”. One day a mysterious hacker known as Morpheus contacts him, revealing that the world he knows is an illusion created by sentient machines. This revelation acts as the catalyst that triggers Thomas’s transformation into Neo, the chosen one who will lead humanity’s resistance against the machines. As the truth unfolds, Neo is thrown into a mind-bending adventure where he must confront his doubts, embrace his destiny, and navigate a reality far beyond anything he ever imagined.
Or take the case of Harry Potter in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” The arrival of a mysterious letter from Hogwarts acts as a catalyst, shattering Harry’s mundane existence and revealing his magical destiny. This catalyst drives the character towards change and sets the story in motion.
#3: Goals and Motivations: Fueling the Fire Within.
Okay, now your character needs a purpose that drives them to take action. In “Black Panther,” T’Challa, the newly crowned king of Wakanda, sets out to protect his people and embrace his role as the Black Panther. His goal? To honour his father’s legacy and bring justice to the world. Wakanda forever!
Or consider the character arc of Katniss Everdeen in Suzanne Collins’s “The Hunger Games.” When Katniss volunteers as tribute to save her sister, her primary goal becomes survival. This motivation fuels her actions throughout the series, shaping her growth and transformation.
#4: Obstacles and Challenges: Bring on the Drama!
Let’s spice things up with obstacles that make your character’s journey a rollercoaster.
In the hit show “Game of Thrones,” Tyrion Lannister faces countless challenges, from political power struggles to personal betrayals. But hey, he manages to use his wit to navigate those treacherous waters. Cheers to resilience!
In my latest novel “Things We Do For Love.” This is where the drama really kicks into high gear! Daisy, our determined protagonist, is facing a multitude of obstacles. On one hand, she’s tirelessly caring for her ageing parents, ensuring their comfort and well-being. On the other hand, she’s running her own clinics, pouring her heart and soul into her work. And let’s not forget her burning desire to conceive a child, despite the challenges that come with trying at a later age.
But beneath the surface, there’s a storm of resentment brewing within Daisy. She carries grudges and unresolved issues towards her mother and sisters. These deep-seated emotions threaten to unravel her carefully constructed life, adding an extra layer of tension and conflict to her already hectic journey.
#5: Growth and Change: Embrace the Glow-Up!
It’s time for your character to level up and show some serious growth.
Look no further than “The Mandalorian” and the unforgettable character arc of the mysterious bounty hunter. Throughout the series, he transforms from a lone wolf to a protector and father figure. Baby Yoda has that effect on people, doesn’t he?
Another classic example is the character arc of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” Scrooge’s encounters with the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future force him to confront his selfishness and transform into a kind-hearted individual. The growth and change should be evident through shifts in beliefs, values, or behaviour, reflecting a profound internal transformation.
#6: Climax: Lights, Camera, Action!
We’ve arrived at the epic showdown!
In “Avengers: Endgame,” Iron Man (Tony Stark) reaches his climactic moment when he makes the ultimate sacrifice, wielding the Infinity Gauntlet to defeat Thanos and save the universe. Cue the tears and standing ovation for a hero’s journey fulfilled!
In “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. The climax arrives like a rollercoaster ride as Amy’s meticulously planned disappearance and frame-up of her husband, Nick, takes centre stage. In a mind-blowing confrontation, secrets are laid bare, and the truth emerges from the shadows. Brace yourself for a nail-biting showdown that will leave you breathless!
In this example, we’re on the edge of our seats, cheering and gasping as Amy’s devious scheme reaches its boiling point. It’s like watching a cat-and-mouse game with a sinister twist, where the climax reveals the shocking depths of her manipulation. You won’t be able to put the book down!
#7: Resolution: Embracing the New Self.
Now sit back and witness the character’s transformation come full circle.
Take “The Queen’s Gambit” as an example, where Beth Harmon evolves from a troubled orphan to a world-renowned chess champion. Her resolution showcases her growth, resilience, and the triumph of the human spirit. Checkmate!
Or Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” Elizabeth Bennet’s character arc concludes with her shedding her initial prejudice and finding love with Mr. Darcy. The resolution offers closure, allowing the audience to witness the character’s evolved state and reflect on the changes they have undergone.
In Conclusion – Character arcs are the heart and soul of storytelling, capturing the essence of transformation and growth. By simplifying the process into starting points, catalysts, goals, obstacles, growth, climax, and resolution, we can better understand and craft compelling character journeys. Remember, this is the classic model, but not all protagonists need to follow these stages. So, embrace the magic of character arcs and let your imagination run wild as you create unforgettable characters and stories!
IMPORTANT NOTE – While these steps provide a powerful framework, remember that storytelling is an art, and rules can be broken to suit your unique narrative style. So have fun, experiment, and create your own path to storytelling greatness!
Now it’s YOUR turn – Do you prefer stories with predictable character arcs or ones that subvert expectations? Would love to get your input in the comment box below.