Over the course of our lives we all change; some of us change for the better and unfortunately some of us change for the worse, but regardless whether it is for the better or worse -we do change. As our lives progress, we move on. This is what we call the character arc.
A character starts out as someone with specific traits or goals or lack of, then through the course of the story things happen to him that have an affect on him, causing him to change. This is the simple definition of character arc or the commonly known Hero’s Journey.
Oh but let’s back up a little. The general definition is that simple, however; it can be a little more complicated when we dig deeper. There are several different types of character arcs: The change Arc, The Growth Arc and the Fall Arc. The Change Arc is the type most closely related to the Hero’s Journey, where the character changes from an unlikely person into a hero or savior. This change is usually extreme or radical and despite the inner strength he likely had within himself from the start, he only needed to see it. By the end of the story, he is transformed in a clear and dramatic manner.
The Growth Arc is similar since the character does overcome some type of weakness or fear, or guilt, or some other internal opposition, by the end of the story as he faces an external opposition paralleling his internal one along the way. He may not be as obviously changed as the “hero” in the Change Arc, but he is a changed individual in some internal way. He may have learned to overcome a prejudice or learned to forgive himself or someone else.
The last one of these three character arcs we are discussing today is the Fall Arc. It is more typically referred to as the “Tragedy” since the main character usually changes in a negative manner, perhaps declining toward a mental illness or alcoholic disease, a banishment or even death. He may start out as someone who has hope but throughout the story he makes all the wrong choices, deciding to follow the darker side into his ultimate destruction.
Here we have the very simple definitions of the different character arcs, however; in subsequent blogs I will go into greater detail providing examples of these arcs within the different story structures , as well as how our story structure influences and is influenced by the character arc we choose for our story so that it has the greatest universal effect possible. After all, the goal is to draw in the reader, have her relate to our character in a way that affects her as greatly as it does our protagonist or at least close to it. The character arc we create in our story should coincide with the character arcs of our own lives or at least provide food for thought.