A character’s arc is the inner journey the character takes over the course of the story. There are four different types of character arcs: Positive, Negative, Flat, and Redemption. In this four-part series I am going to take you though how each of these arcs work, starting with the most common which is a positive arc.
For the most part, positive arcs all have the same foundation, and that is either Lie vs. Truth or Want vs. Need.
Lie vs. Truth is the most common and is the most encouraged arc. This occurs when the protagonist realizes the lie they believed about the world is wrong and they begin to see the truth. Usually the ‘lie’ would have to do with their twisted worldview, however, I consider negative traits to be good ground for arcs, or discerning what they want from what they need.
Positive character arcs is really the only arc you can use for any character; Your protagonist, your antagonist, or a secondary character. Some arcs will be more drastic than others. For some characters and some situations, your character will have a complete turnaround that will totally change their life, while others (Such as Anne in Anne of Green Gables) will learn their lesson with much less extreme results.
As an example, I am going to use the easiest character which would be Finn from Star Wars. I have mentioned Finn’s positive arc in the past. I did not like Finn at all up until the point of his arc. I still don’t care much for him, but he has a great arc.
In the beginning of The Last Jedi we see Finn’s fault. He is a traitor and cares very little for the resistance. He struggles with loyalty and doesn’t want to pick sides. In the words of his mirror, DJ, “It’s all a machine, partner, live free, don’t join.” He is more concerned with his own safety than who wins the war. It wasn’t until Finn witnessed firsthand why the resistance needed to win the war, that he overcame his faults.
Finn’s ‘lie’ was that the war didn’t matter, and it didn’t involve him.
Another favorite positive arc of mine is Thorin from the Hobbit.
As it’s put from Cliffnotes.com “He (Thorin) has an intense desire for the treasure (of Erebor).” Thorin started out with good intentions. Take back his people’s home and rid the land of the dragon Smaug. However, once they arrive at Erebor things start going downhill when Thorin’s “intense desire” for the treasure completely consumes him, and when the dragon unleashes his wrath on lake town, Thorin couldn’t care less. The films do an outstanding job of presenting this.
At the end of the story he realizes the truth as he says to Bilbo, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
Thorin’s arc also contributes to one of the key themes of the book which is materialism. Your character’s arc will have a heavy impact on the theme.
So now that I have given you some examples, lets break it down even more and talk about the structure of an arc.
In the beginning you establish the character and reveal their “lie”. Your character is comfortable with this lie and they don’t intend on changing their world view soon. Then the inciting incident comes along and this pushes your character out of their comfort zone. They are pushed into the story with a plan that ends up not working.
Things just get worse after that. Your character had now reached the “Crash and burn” part of their arc. They are now in the lowest state of their arc. Like Thorin trying to kill Bilbo and waging war on the elves…
And then your character has the “AH-HA!” moment (the realization), where they realize the truth and take the next step with their new plan of action. With this alternative plan and realization your character accomplishes their goal (victory).
Thanks for reading and be on the lookout for part two where we will go over Negative Character Arcs.
Thanks a bunch!