In the previous post, we explored the basics of effective character arcs. To create a compelling story, your protagonist should have a Goal, a Lie, and the Truth as their road map. Using those ingredients, you can craft three different types of effective character arcs. The last post covered the first arc, Change or Transformation. Let’s explore the remaining two–Growth and Fall.
Character Arc #2: a Growth Arc
In this arc, the transformation of the protagonist is not nearly as severe as the Change or Transformation Arc outlined in the last post. With this type of arc, the change could be in perspective (they see the world differently by the end of the story), role (they take on a different function from the beginning of the story to the end), or education (the character attains a new skill set).
Applying our three Character Arc ingredients, let’s use Ove from A Man Called Ove as an example:
The Goal: To maintain an existence separate from the outside world.
The Lie: You don’t need other people to get by in the world.
The Truth: Allowing others into your life gives you purpose and happiness.
As the story moves, Ove’s solitary life becomes complicated and, in many ways, enriched when a young family moves in next door. It’s not giving anything away to reveal that he moves from being a total curmudgeon to a lovable person.
Things to Consider When Writing a Growth Arc
- Unlike the Growth or Transformation Arc, the Growth Arc is common across almost all genres. This is due to the fact that nothing radical needs to happen to the character (like discovering that you have magical abilities) in order for change to occur.
- This is useful for supporting characters, which you can read more about here.
- As long as you can see a change at the end of your story, you’ve achieved a Growth Arc. Be sure that the character learned something, changed roles, or changed perspectives.
Character Arc #3: a Fall Arc
Ah, the Fall Arc. This one usually ends in tragedy. The character here makes poor decisions or is led down a path of no-return resulting in madness or demise. The use of this method is perfect for building a villain or an antagonist. In a Fall Arc, the character either makes bad choices and regrets them or they embrace them and are therefore corrupted.
Let’s use Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader as an example:
The Goal: Protect one’s family at all costs.
The Lie: The Dark Side will provide the power necessary to rule others and thereby make the ones you love safe.
The Truth: The Dark Side does not, indeed, have cookies, and it’s better to embrace love instead of power.
Things to Consider when Writing a Fall Arc
- Like the Growth Arc, the Fall Arc is applicable to most genres.
- It’s best used when crafting a villain.
- Think about how you want your readers to interact with this type of storyline. Do you want them to be sympathetic? If so, consider how you will craft the actual fall. Will this character be corrupted? If so, why? If they choose to make bad decisions, what was their motivation? Make this believable for maximum effectiveness.
You might already be aware of these three effective character arcs without even really thinking about it. However, if you take the time to apply the Goal, Lie, and Truth ingredients to each character, you might sharpen your storyline. Best of luck to you and your character development! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.