DIY Effective Character Arcs- Part 1 of 2

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Mapping out your character arcs in advance will create compelling characters. Maybe you’re in the early stages of planning or you’re already underway. Either way, what type of character arcs are you using to create memorable and effective characters? 

The Three Main Types of Character Arcs

In all stories, the protagonist undergoes a journey. This journey might be physical or psychological. Either way, this adventure has pitfalls, roadblocks, and forks in the road. The main character might stray from the path, find a shortcut, or become completely lost. 

The resulting rise and fall of the narrative creates an arc. In some cases, the protagonist will undergo a profound change or transformation. In other cases, the main character will experience growth, and, sometimes, not always in a good way. When the book ends and the protagonist stays at rock bottom, not only have you created a tragedy, you’ve created a fall arc. 

Let’s explore each of these types of arcs in the next two posts. But first, let’s lay down the foundation for all character arcs.

The 3 Universal Ingredients for Strong Character Arcs

For a story to be compelling, all main characters should include the following three ingredients–a Goal, a Lie, and the Truth. This might help:

Your main character wants (insert a Goal) but (the Lie) gets in the way. Once the main character faces/conquers (the Lie), the Truth will be revealed and the journey will head towards its final conclusion. 

The Goal is your character’s motivating factor and it drives the story. The Lie prevents your character from achieving their Goal. Once the protagonist deals with the Truth, this character will experience a profound change and so will the story. 

Let’s use Luke Skywalker as an example.
The Goal: To leave Tatooine and become a star pilot.
The Lie: He’s just a farm boy destined to bring in the moisture harvest and enjoy a nice cold glass of blue milk at the end of the day. 
The Truth: He was born force-strong and destined to be a Jedi. 

Character Arc #1: Change or Transformation Arc

Luke’s story follows the Hero’s Journey and he’s an excellent example of the Change or Transformation Arc. By the end of Episode Six: Return of the Jedi, Luke is a far cry from the farm boy he once was. His journey has literally taken him across the galaxy, forced him to understand his blood relations, and turned him into a warrior. 

Change or Transformation Arcs are usually extreme or radical, where, by the end of the journey/story, the protagonist is almost nothing like who they were when the journey/story started.

Side note: There are many different types of heroes. For example, Luke is a Plucky Hero. You can read more about these in one of my previous posts here.  

Things to Consider when Writing a Change or Transformation Arc

  • First of all, it’s good to know that this type of story arc lends well to genre fiction like sci-fi and fantasy. 
  • Also, the Lie is crucial. Think about Harry Potter, until he was eleven, he believed an actual lie–that he was just a normal boy that no one cared about. Therefore, coming up with something that will turn the known universe of your character life upside down should be a ground-breaking, earth-shattering Lie. 
  • In conjunction with the Lie is the Truth. How will your character discover the truth and what will this due to their known existence?

To be Continued …

In the next post, we will explore both the Growth Arc and the Fall Arc using the same three ingredients–Goal, Lie, Truth–as a guideline. Stay tuned …

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Heather Rigney is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. Author of The Merrow Trilogy--a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all. Her writing has been featured in Motif Magazine and Stone Crowns Magazine. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets. You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website:

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