Character Arc – Definition & Detailed Explanation – Screenwriting Glossary Terms

What is a Character Arc?

A character arc refers to the transformation or personal growth that a character undergoes throughout a story. It is the journey that a character takes from their initial state to a changed state by the end of the narrative. Character arcs are essential in storytelling as they add depth and complexity to characters, making them more relatable and engaging to the audience.

Why is a Character Arc Important in Screenwriting?

Character arcs are crucial in screenwriting because they help to drive the plot forward and create emotional resonance with the audience. A well-developed character arc can make the audience invest in the character’s journey and root for their success. It also adds layers to the story, making it more compelling and memorable.

How to Develop a Compelling Character Arc

To develop a compelling character arc, screenwriters should focus on the following key elements:

1. Establish a clear starting point for the character: Define who the character is at the beginning of the story, including their goals, motivations, and flaws.

2. Create obstacles and challenges for the character: Introduce conflicts and hurdles that force the character to confront their weaknesses and grow.

3. Show the character’s transformation: Allow the character to evolve and change over the course of the story, leading to a satisfying resolution.

4. Make the character’s arc believable: Ensure that the character’s growth is organic and authentic, rooted in their experiences and choices throughout the narrative.

Types of Character Arcs

There are several types of character arcs that screenwriters can use to shape their characters’ journeys. Some common types include:

1. Positive arc: The character starts in a negative or flawed state and undergoes a transformation to become a better version of themselves by the end of the story.

2. Negative arc: The character begins in a positive or admirable state but descends into darkness or corruption as the story progresses.

3. Flat arc: The character remains relatively unchanged throughout the story, but their presence and actions impact the world around them.

4. Anti-hero arc: The character starts as morally ambiguous or flawed but ultimately chooses to do the right thing, despite their shortcomings.

Common Mistakes to Avoid in Developing a Character Arc

When developing a character arc, screenwriters should be mindful of the following common mistakes:

1. Lack of consistency: Ensure that the character’s growth is consistent with their established traits and experiences throughout the story.

2. Rushed or forced transformation: Avoid sudden or unrealistic changes in the character’s behavior or beliefs without proper development and justification.

3. Neglecting internal conflict: Explore the character’s internal struggles and emotional journey, not just their external actions and decisions.

4. Focusing solely on the protagonist: Give supporting characters their own arcs and development to enrich the overall narrative.

Examples of Strong Character Arcs in Film and Television

Some examples of strong character arcs in film and television include:

1. Walter White in “Breaking Bad”: Walter White starts as a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher but transforms into a ruthless drug kingpin over the course of the series.

2. Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice”: Elizabeth Bennet begins as a prejudiced and judgmental young woman but learns to overcome her biases and find true love and happiness.

3. Michael Corleone in “The Godfather”: Michael Corleone evolves from a reluctant outsider to a ruthless mafia boss who embraces his family’s criminal legacy.

4. Daenerys Targaryen in “Game of Thrones”: Daenerys starts as a vulnerable exiled princess but grows into a powerful and determined queen who seeks to liberate the oppressed.

Overall, character arcs are essential tools in screenwriting that can elevate a story and create memorable and impactful characters that resonate with audiences. By understanding the importance of character development and avoiding common pitfalls, screenwriters can craft compelling and authentic character arcs that enhance their narratives.