Character Arcs

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Negative

Flat

Four Character Arcs?

There are three major types of character arcs that can be found in fiction, whether short or long.

https://writingcooperative.com/the-three-types-of-character-arcs-635c06d7459f

These include the two Truth-driven or heroic arcs—the Positive-Change Arc and the Flat Arc. And the three Lie-driven or Negative-Change Arcs—the Disillusionment Arc, the Fall Arc, and the Corruption Arc.

https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/learn-5-types-of-character-arc-at-a-glance/

The 6 Foundational Ingredients of All Character Arcs

Let’s get started. All five arcs share several commonalities, beginning with their foundational structure (which I prefer to break into three acts and ten beats, as you’ll see below). Beyond that, they also share the following six foundational ingredients, which can then be mixed to the author’s needs according to whichever arc has been chosen for the story.

1. The Thematic Truth

The theme is your story’s Truth. It is a universal statement about how the world works. In almost all instances (with the arguable exception of the Disillusionment Arc), the Truth will represent an ultimately positive (if sometimes painful) value, which will help the characters interact more fruitfully and less futilely with the world.

>>Click Here to Read More the Truth Your Character Believes

2. The Lie the Character Believes

The Lie is a misconception about the world that stands in contrast to the Truth. At the beginning of the story, the Lie will be preventing someone (either the protagonist or, in the case of the Flat Arc, supporting characters) from seeing, understanding, and/or accepting a necessary Truth. The entire character arc—and, indeed, the entire story—is about if and how the character(s) will be able to evolve past the Lie into the Truth.

>>Click Here to Read More About the Lie Your Character Believes

3. & 4. The Thing the Character Wants vs. the Thing the Character Needs

The inner thematic conflict of Truth vs. Lie will manifest in the external plot conflict as the Thing the Character Wants vs. the Thing the Character Needs. Usually, the Need is nothing more or less than the Truth, although it can take a physical form as well. The Want may be something large and abstract (such as “respect”), but it should boil down to a very specific plot goal (“a promotion” or “a college degree”). Your character’s evolving proximity to the Want and the Need will change in direct relation to the specific character arc.

>>Click Here to Read More About the Thing Your Character Wants and the Thing Your Character Needs

5. The Ghost

The Ghost (sometimes also referred to as the “wound”) is the motivating catalyst in your protagonist’s backstory. This is the reason the character believes in the Lie and can’t see past it to the Truth. As its name (coined by script doctor extraordinaire John Truby) suggests, the Ghost is something that haunts the character, something that can’t just be moved past. Often, it is a traumatic event, but even something seemingly positive (such as a parent’s pride in a child) can cause a character to believe the damaging Lie.

>>Click Here to Read More About the Ghost

6. The Normal World

The Normal World is the initial setting in the story’s First Act, meant to illustrate the character’s life before the story’s main conflict. Depending on the type of arc, the Normal World will symbolically represent either the story’s Truth or the story’s Lie. The Normal World may be a definitive setting, which will change at the beginning of the Second Act, when the character enters the Adventure World of the main conflict. However, it may also be more metaphorical, in which case the setting itself will not switch, but rather the conflict will change the setting around the protagonist (for example changing the atmosphere from friendly to hostile).

>>Click Here to Read More About the Normal World

https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/learn-5-types-of-character-arc-at-a-glance/

Positive

Probably the most common of the character arcs for protagonists in our media — the positive character arc. This is an arc in which the character improves over the course of the story. In which the character becomes a better, more self-actualized person.

These are your superhero origin stories (who may go from timid to brave, selfish to selfless, or other such heroic journeys), your romantic leads (who oft go from not accepting love or loving into a state of loving), your coming-of-age stories (in which a character comes into a higher state of maturity as they face some of the many foibles and hurdles of growing up), among others…

“Better” is relative to the extent and context of the story. Different stories have different stakes. The improvement hinges on the character flaws the story has set up for the character, and how the flaws are overcome in the course of the story.

https://writingcooperative.com/the-three-types-of-character-arcs-635c06d7459f

The 2 Heroic Arcs

The Positive-Change Arc and the Flat Arc are the “happy” or “heroic” arcs. In these stories, the protagonist either learns or already knows the Truth—and uses it to positively impact the story world.

The Positive-Change Arc

Character Believes Lie > Overcomes Lie > New Truth Is Liberating

>>Click Here to Read More About the Positive-Change Arc

The First Act (1%-25%)

1%: The Hook: Believes Lie

The protagonist believes a Lie that has so far proven necessary or functional in the existing Normal World.

12%: The Inciting Event: First Hint Lie Will No Longer Work

The Call to Adventure, when the protagonist first encounters the main conflict, also brings the first subtle hint that the Lie will no longer serve the protagonist as effectively as it has in the past.

25%: The First Plot Point: Lie No Longer Effective

The protagonist is faced with a consequential choice, in which the “old ways” of the Lie-ridden First Act show themselves ineffective in the face of the main conflict’s new stakes. Although the protagonist does not yet recognize the inefficacy of the Lie, he will still pass through a Door of No Return, in which he is forced to leave the Normal World of the First Act and enter the Adventure World of the main conflict in the Second Act.

The Second Act (25%-75%)

37%: The First Pinch Point: Punished for Using Lie

The protagonist is “punished” for using the Lie. In the Normal World, he was able to use the Lie to get the Thing He Wants. But in the Second Act, this is no longer a functional mindset. Throughout the First Half of the Second Act, he will try to use his old Lie-based mindsets to reach his goals and will be “punished” by failures until he begins to learn how things really work.

50%: The Midpoint (Second Plot Point): Sees Truth, But Doesn’t Yet Reject Lie

The protagonist encounters a Moment of Truth in which he comes face to face with the thematic Truth (often via a simultaneous plot-based revelation about the external conflict). This is the first time the protagonist consciously recognizes the Truth and its power. He does not yet, however, recognize the Truth and the Lie as incompatible. He will attempt to use both in the Second Half of the Second Act.

62%: The Second Pinch Point: Rewarded for Effectively Using Truth

The protagonist is “rewarded” for using the Truth. Building upon what he learned at the Midpoint, the protagonist will start implementing Truth-based actions in combating the antagonistic force and reaching toward the Thing He Wants. He will be “rewarded” by successes as he moves nearer and nearer his ultimate plot goal.

The Third Act (75%-100%)

75%: The Third Plot Point: Rejects Lie

The protagonist is confronted by a “low moment” brought about by his continuing refusal to fully reject the Lie. Finally, the protagonist must confront the true stakes of what he stands to lose if he continues to embrace the Lie. Feeling all but defeated, he rejects the Lie. Implicitly, he also fully embraces the Truth.

88%: The Climax: Embraces Truth

The protagonist enters the final confrontation with the antagonistic force to decide whether or not he will gain the Thing He Wants. Directly before or during this section, he consciously and explicitly embraces and wields the Truth.

98%: The Climactic Moment: Uses Truth to Gain Need

The protagonist uses the Truth and all it has taught him about himself and the conflict to gain the Thing He Needs. Depending upon the nature of his Truth, he may also gain the Thing He Wants, or he may realize he needs to sacrifice it for his own greater good. As a result, he definitively ends the conflict between himself and the antagonistic force.

100%: The Resolution: Enters New Truth-Empowered Normal World

The protagonist either enters a new Normal World or returns to the original Normal World, where he can now live as a Truth-empowered individual.

https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/learn-5-types-of-character-arc-at-a-glance/

Negative

Negative character arcs are less common but hardly rare. These are the stories where the characters get worse. They become more morally bankrupt, they are broken down, they double down on their bad behavior, they go down the slippery slope… Just as they are many plots within which a character can improve, they are plots which they descend.

These are your anti-heroes that descend into pure villainy like Walter White, or your tragic heroes like Hamlet or MacBeth, among others…

There is something alluring about negative character arcs born on the back of protagonists. Just as much as we like to use fiction for wish fulfillment, we also like to use it to explore the dark side of humanity.

Negative character arcs also explore the character’s flaws, but rather something they overcome is the anchor bringing them down, something they cannot overcome, or allowing them to self-rationalize their actions. In Shakespeare’s tragedies, this is called the “tragic flaw” and it serves as the cornerstone of their downfall.

https://writingcooperative.com/the-three-types-of-character-arcs-635c06d7459f

The Disillusionment Arc

Character Believes Lie > Overcomes Lie > New Truth Is Tragic

The First Act (1%-25%)

1%: The Hook:Believes Lie in Comfortable Normal World

The protagonist believes a Lie that has so far proven necessary or functional in the existing Normal World, which is often a comfortable and complacent place.

12%: The Inciting Event: First Hint Lie Is Untrue

The Call to Adventure, when the protagonist first encounters the main conflict, also brings the first subtle hint that the Lie will no longer serve the protagonist as effectively as it has in the past.

25%: The First Plot Point: Full Immersion in Adventure World’s Stark Truth

The protagonist is faced with a consequential choice, in which the comfortable “old ways” of the Lie-ridden First Act show themselves ineffective in the face of the main conflict’s new stakes. The protagonist will pass through a Door of No Return, in which he is forced to enter the Adventure World of the main conflict in the Second Act, where he is confronted by a stark and painful new Truth.

The Second Act (25%-75%)

37%: The First Pinch Point: Punished for Using Lie

The protagonist is “punished” for using the Lie. In the Normal World, he was able to use the Lie to get the Thing He Wants. But in the Adventure World, this is no longer a functional mindset. Throughout the First Half of the First Act, he will try to use his old Lie-based mindsets to reach his goals and will be “punished” by failures until he begins to learn how things really work.

50%: The Midpoint (Second Plot Point): Forced to Face Truth, But Unwilling to Embrace It

The protagonist encounters a Moment of Truth in which he comes face to face with the thematic Truth (often via a simultaneous plot-based revelation about the external conflict). This is the first time the protagonist consciously recognizes the Truth and its power. He is, however, horrified by the implications of this dark new Truth. Although he can no longer deny the Truth, he is unwilling to fully embrace it or to surrender his comparatively wonderful old Lie.

62%: The Second Pinch Point: Growing Frustration With Old Lie and Disillusionment With New Truth

The protagonist is forced to confront consistently-increasing examples of the Lie’s lack of functionality in the real world. He grows more and more frustrated with the Lie’s limitations. He begins to accept the horrible Truth. He is profoundly disillusioned by his new worldview, even as he begins to be “rewarded” for using the Truth to reach for the Thing He Wants.

The Third Act (75%-100%)

75%: The Third Plot Point: Accepts That Comforting Lie Is Now Completely Nonexistent

The protagonist is confronted by an irrefutable “low moment,” in which he can no longer fool himself that the dark Truth is not true. He must not only accept this new Truth, he must also admit that his comforting old Lie is now completely nonexistent.

88%: The Climax: Wields Dark New Truth in Final Confrontation

The protagonist enters the final confrontation with the antagonistic force to decide whether or not he will gain the Thing He Wants. Directly before or during this section, he consciously and explicitly embraces and wields the dark new Truth.

98%: The Climactic Moment: Fully Acknowledges Truth

The protagonist uses the Truth and all it has taught him about himself and the conflict to gain the Thing He Needs. Depending on the nature of his Truth, he may also gain the Thing He Wants (only to discover that, in light of his new knowledge, it is worthless), or he may realize he needs to sacrifice it for his own greater good. As a result, he definitively ends the conflict between himself and the antagonistic force.

100%: The Resolution: Disillusioned With New Truth

The protagonist either enters a new Normal World or returns to the original Normal World, but with a jaded eye now that he knows the Truth.

The Fall Arc

Character Believes Lie > Clings to Lie > Rejects New Truth > Believes Worse Lie

The First Act (1%-25%)

1%: The Hook:Believes Lie

The protagonist believes a Lie that has so far proven necessary or functional in the existing (often destructive) Normal World.

12%: The Inciting Event: First Hint Lie Will Not Save or Reward

The Call to Adventure, when the protagonist first encounters the main conflict, also brings the first subtle hint that the Lie will no longer effectively protect or reward the protagonist in her current circumstances.

25%: The First Plot Point: Lie Now Completely Ineffective; Makes Move Toward Truth

The protagonist is faced with a consequential choice in which the “old ways” of the Lie-ridden First Act show themselves ineffective in the face of the main conflict’s new stakes. The protagonist is given an early choice between old Lie and new Truth. She passes through a Door of No Return, in which she makes a move toward the Truth and, in so doing, is forced to leave the Normal World of the First Act and enter the Adventure World of the main conflict in the Second Act.

The Second Act (25%-75%)

37%: The First Pinch Point: Halfhearted Attempts at Truth Only Half-Effective

The protagonist tries to wield the Truth as a means of gaining the Thing She Wants, but does so only with limited understanding or enthusiasm. She is stuck in a limbo-land where the old Lie is no longer a functional mindset, but where her halfhearted attempts at the Truth prove likewise only half-effective.

50%: The Midpoint (Second Plot Point): Glimpses Truth, Rejects Truth, Chooses Worse Lie

The protagonist encounters a Moment of Truth in which she comes face to face with the thematic Truth (often via a simultaneous plot-based revelation about the external conflict). This is the first time the protagonist consciously sees the full power and opportunity of the Truth. However, she also sees the full sacrifice demanded if she is to follow the Truth. Unwilling to make that sacrifice, she rejects the Truth and chooses instead to embrace a Lie that is worse than the original.

62%: The Second Pinch Point: Lie Is Effective, But Destructive

Uncaring about the consequences, the protagonist wields her Lie well and finds it effective in moving toward the Thing She Wants. However, the closer she gets to her plot goal, the more destructive the Lie becomes both to her and to the world around her.

The Third Act (75%-100%)

75%: The Third Plot Point: Complete Failure to Gain Either Want or Need

The protagonist is confronted by a “low moment,” in which she experiences a complete failure to gain the Thing She Wants. This failure is a direct result of the collective damage wrought by her Lie in the Second Half of the Second Act. The “means” caught up to her before she reached her “end.” However, even when faced by all the evidence of the Lie’s destructive power, the protagonist still refuses to repent or to turn to the Truth.

88%: The Climax: Last-Ditch Attempt to Salvage Want

Upon entering the final confrontation with the antagonistic force, the protagonist doubles down on her Lie in a last-ditch attempt to salvage the Thing She Wants.

98%: The Climactic Moment: Total Destruction

Crippled by the Lie (in both the internal and external conflicts), the protagonist is unable to gain the Thing She Wants (or gains it only to discover it is useless to her). Instead, she succumbs to total personal destruction.

100%: The Resolution: Aftermath

The protagonist must confront the aftermath of her choices. She may finally and futilely accept the inescapable Truth. Or she may be left to cope, blindly, with the consequences of her choices.

The Corruption Arc

Character Sees Truth > Rejects Truth > Embraces Lie

The First Act (1%-25%)

1%: The Hook:Understands Truth

The protagonist lives in a Normal World that allows for or even encourages the thematic Truth. As a result, the protagonist starts out with an understanding of the Truth.

12%: The Inciting Event: First Temptation of Lie

The Call to Adventure, when the protagonist first encounters the main conflict, also brings the first subtle temptation that the Lie might be able to serve the protagonist better than the Truth.

25%: The First Plot Point: Enters Beguiling Adventure World of Lie

The protagonist is faced with a consequential choice, in which he is enticed out of the First Act’s safe, Truth-based Normal World into the Second Act’s beguiling, Lie-based Adventure World. Not realizing the danger (or believing he is weighing the consequences), the protagonist is lured through the Door of No Return by the promise of the Thing He Wants.

The Second Act (25%-75%)

37%: The First Pinch Point: Torn Between Truth and Lie

The protagonist is torn between his old Truth and the new Lie. The Lie proves itself effective in moving him nearer the Thing He Wants. But he wages an internal conflict as he recognizes he is moving further and further away from his old convictions and understandings of the world.

50%: The Midpoint (Second Plot Point): Embraces Lie Without Fully Rejecting Truth

The protagonist encounters a Moment of Truth in which he comes face to face with the Lie in all its power. He recognizes he cannot gain the Thing He Wants without the Lie. Although he is not yet willing to fully and consciously reject the Truth, he makes the decision to fully embrace the Lie.

62%: The Second Pinch Point: Resists Sacrifice Demanded by Truth

The protagonist is “rewarded” for using the Lie. Building upon what he learned at the Midpoint, the protagonist will start implementing Lie-based actions in combating the antagonistic force and reaching toward the Thing He Wants. The Truth pulls on him, demanding sacrifices he is not willing to give. He begins resisting the Truth more and more adamantly.

The Third Act (75%-100%)

75%: The Third Plot Point: Fully Embraces Lie

The protagonist utterly rejects the Truth and embraces the Lie. He acts upon this in a way that creates a “low moment” for the world around him (and for him morally, even if he refuses to recognize it). He is now willing to knowingly endure the consequences of rejecting the Truth in exchange for what he sees as the rewards of embracing the Lie.

88%: The Climax: Final Push to Gain Want

The protagonist enters the final confrontation with the antagonistic force to decide whether or not he will gain the Thing He Wants. Unhampered by the Truth, he pushes forward ruthlessly toward his plot goal.

98%: The Climactic Moment: Moral Failure

The protagonist uses the Lie and all it has taught him in an attempt to gain the Thing He Wants. He may gain the Thing He Wants and remain senseless to the evil engendered by his actions. Or he may gain the Thing He Wants only to be devastated when he realizes it wasn’t worth what he sacrificed. Or he may fail to gain the Thing He Wants and be devastated by the realization that his sacrifices to the Lie were fruitless. One way or another, he definitively ends the conflict between himself and the antagonistic force.

100%: The Resolution: Aftermath

The protagonist must confront the aftermath of his choices. He may turn away from the Lie, admitting his mistake and accepting the consequences. Or he may callously forge ahead, intent on continuing to use the Lie to further his own ends.

https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/learn-5-types-of-character-arc-at-a-glance-the-3-negative-arcs-part-2-of-2/

Flat

Flat character arcs are in fact not “arcs” at all because, well, they’re flat. They are stories in which the character does not change. Flat arcs happen all the time for minor or secondary characters, but what does that mean for the main characters?

There are two types of flat character protagonists. One is arc-less and the other has an arc that shows itself in a surprising way.

The arc-less flat lead usually appears in heavily plot-driven stories that are episodic, so the same character can reappear again and again and again. These are your Sherlock Holmes and centuries of other recurring sleuths inspired by him, your typical sitcom cast, your James Bond.

These flat characters often have a good hook to them (they’re super smart, suave, funny, etc.) that the audience wants to come back to, but they have to be paired with a good plot that suits them… a mystery, spy shenanigans, comedic hi-jinks, etc. Character change isn’t the point of the story and in fact, may be detrimental to the story.

The flat character within an arc is the character that already is self-actualized before the start of the story. This type of flat character arc may have a protagonist who doesn’t undergo significant change within the course of the story, but rather their strength of character (a) is tested throughout the plot but despite any doubts ultimately stands, (b) changes the people around them, or (c)both. These are your (as explained by Just Write in this Youtube video) Paddington Bear, or (as I would argue) Captain America/Steve Rogers from the MCU, and K.M. Weiland argues Wonder Woman from the recent DC movie.

In this way, the flat character arc proves the character’s inner strength/true/insight on the world to be valid through tests and by influencing/inspiring others. A flat character arc can involve some doubt or waiver — a test wouldn’t be a test otherwise — but the character comes out the other side staying true to one’s convictions. However, it is through the testing and doubts, and then the ultimate affirmation back into the self-actualized state, which takes an audience along on the journey of story tension and catharsis that gets this labeled as a flat “arc” even as that name is a bit of an oxymoron.

https://writingcooperative.com/the-three-types-of-character-arcs-635c06d7459f

The Flat Arc

Character Believes Truth > Maintains Truth > Uses Truth to Overcome World’s Lie

>>Click Here to Read More About the Flat Arc.

The First Act (1%-25%)

1%: The Hook:Believes Truth in a Lie-Ridden World

The protagonist believes a Truth that the rest of the Normal World around her rejects. The Normal World and most of its characters are mired in a central Lie which enslaves them in some way.

12%: The Inciting Event: Challenged to Use Truth to Oppose Lie

The Call to Adventure, when the protagonist first encounters the main conflict, presents a direct challenge to her Truth. The question at this point is whether or not she can be convinced to take action in wielding her Truth against the Lie of the world around her.

25%: The First Plot Point: World Tries to Forcibly Impose Lie

The protagonist is faced with a consequential choice, in which the antagonistic force attempts to forcibly impose the Lie upon her or others. In refusing to relinquish her Truth for the Lie, the protagonist passes through a Door of No Return, in which she is forced to leave the Normal World of the First Act and enter the Adventure World of the main conflict in the Second Act.

The Second Act (25%-75%)

37%: The First Pinch Point: Uncertain if Truth Is Capable of Defeating Lie

The protagonist struggles to use her Truth against the strength of the antagonistic force’s Lie. She experiences doubt about whether her Truth is capable of defeating the Lie and, as a result, if it is indeed the Truth.

50%: The Midpoint (Second Plot Point): Proves Power of Truth to World

The protagonist perseveres in following her Truth. She offers a Moment of Truth to the world around her. This is the first time the protagonist will demonstrably exhibit the full power and purity of the Truth. At least one significant supporting character will be impacted (positively or negatively) by this revelation.

62%: The Second Pinch Point: Lie-Driven Characters Fight Back

In response to the protagonist’s powerful demonstration of Truth at the Midpoint, other Lie-driven characters will double down on the Lie and use it to mount a formidable counter-attack upon the protagonist and her Truth.

The Third Act (75%-100%)

75%: The Third Plot Point: Lie Seems to Triumph Externally

The Lie-driven tactics of the antagonistic force hit the protagonist hard, even to the point of the protagonist’s seeming defeat in the external conflict. The protagonist is confronted by a “low moment” brought about by the supporting characters’ continuing refusal to fully reject the Lie. The protagonist must confront the true stakes of what she stands to sacrifice if she continues to embrace the Truth. Even in the face of overwhelming odds, she reaffirms her conviction of the Truth.

88%: The Climax: Final Confrontation Between Truth and Lie

The protagonist enters the final confrontation with the antagonistic force to decide whether or not she will gain the Thing She Wants. She consciously and explicitly embraces and wields the Truth.

98%: The Climactic Moment: Truth Defeats Lie

The protagonist uses the Truth (often with the help of positively-changed supporting characters) to defeat the antagonistic force and gain the Thing She Wants and Needs (which are often the same thing in a Flat Arc, since the protagonist always possesses an understanding of the Truth).

100%: The Resolution: New Truth-Empowered Normal World

The protagonist enters a new Normal World, which is empowered by the Truth thanks to her actions.

https://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/learn-5-types-of-character-arc-at-a-glance/

Four Character Arcs?

There are four types of character arcs. With any luck, they will help you identify certain hallmarks:

1. Transformation

Even if you’ve never really noticed it before, you’ve probably seen the ‘hero’s journey’ a thousand times—it’s a character arc as old as the hills. Essentially, the ‘hero’s journey’ utilizes an often-mystical ‘transformation’ arc to follow a protagonist who undergoes a significant change in their personality from an unlikely underdog into a lauded and successful individual.

This is often due to some hidden strengths or talents, qualities initially unbeknownst or suppressed by your character at the beginning of the story, which surface over the course of the narrative. What marks this arc out as distinct from the others is the change the character undergoes tends to be quite radical, to the point where they may change beyond all recognition.

2. Maturity

A ‘maturity’ arc is ultimately defined by personal growth in the face of external factors, as opposed to the radical transformative change stemming from inner qualities in the previous arc. A novel which uses a ‘maturity’ arc will depict a protagonist facing challenges in their environment which force them to overcome their demons/disadvantages to, ultimately, become a better person.

By addressing personal faults or hang-ups, for example, a protagonist in a ‘maturity’ arc will not tend to evolve into a significantly different character whatsoever. In fact, they’ll more or less remain the same by the end of story, albeit benefiting from a realization that they’ve learned from their earlier challenges and grown and matured as a result.

3. Alteration

An ‘alteration’ arc is perhaps the most subtle of character arcs, similar to a ‘maturity’ arc in the sense that it focuses on telling a story where a protagonist undergoes only a modest shift in their attitudes by the novel’s closure. However, an ‘alteration’ arc is somewhat different in that it is more about a character changing their perspective than it is about making wholesale changes to their behavior or personality.

Therefore, whereas a ‘maturity’ arc is about a character making physical, emotional or spiritual improvements to themselves, an ‘alteration’ arc is more about them seeing or interpreting things differently. By and large, they remain the same as they started, it’s just their view on things will have changed as a result of the events in the novel. This makes it the most neutral of character arcs.

4. Decline

A ‘decline’ arc does exactly what it says on the tin—it follows a character (who may or may not possess flaws and/or personal failings) who makes poor choices which ultimately dooms them, jeopardizing either themselves or others in due process. Stories like this tend to be tragedies, following a character as they fall from grace, either by way of madness, or death.

Obviously then, it’s often the case that ‘decline’ arcs can take on a more transgressive and pessimistic flavor than other tales, often dabbling in moral ambiguity and conveying the sense that a character is being punished for immoral misdeeds or subjected to divine punishment due to factors beyond their control. As far as character arcs go, this is the weightiest and the hardest to pull off without depressing the hell out of your readers.

https://thanetwriters.com/essay/characters/the-four-different-types-of-character-arc/

The Change Arc — this is our good old “hero’s journey”, which basically has the protagonist change from an unlikely fellow into a savior and hero. This transformation is quite radical, and despite some inner strength that was “always within him”, pretty much all else about the protagonist changes drastically by the end of the story.

The Growth Arc — in this character arc, the protagonist overcomes an internal opposition (weakness, fear, the past etc.) while he faces an external opposition, and as a result he becomes a fuller, better person. He’s still pretty much who he was, just upgraded to Protagonist 2.0.

A common yet often overlooked variant of the Growth Arc is The Shift Arc — here, the protagonist changes his perspective, learns different skills, or gains a different role. The end-result is not “better” or more than the starting point, just different. The protagonist has not overcome a grand inner resistance or anything, he simply gained a new set of skills or assumed a new position, maybe discovered a talent he forgot he had, or a different vocation.

The Fall Arc — commonly known as a “tragedy”, the Fall Arc follows the protagonist as he dooms himself and/or others, and declines into insanity, immorality or death.

So which type of character arc should we pick for our story? That’s also easy to find out. All we have to do is to answer two questions:

1. What do we want our character to be like when the story reaches its glorious conclusion?

2. What do we want our character to start out as?

par example — If we want him to become the leader of a group of people, and we want him to start out as just any other member of that group, then we’re writing a Change Arc (everything else will fall flat and fail to make the ending believable).
But if he starts out as the leader of a rivaling group of people, then we have three possibilities:
– a Growth Arc if the rivaling group are the “bad guys” and our protagonist learns the error of his ways;
– a Shift Arc if the rivaling group are also “good guys” but with opposing interests;
– and a Fall Arc if the rivaling group are the actual “good guys” and our protagonist ends up leading the powers of darkness.

Knowing where we want our character to be at the resolution of the story, and knowing how they start out, gives us the kind of character arc we will need to develop. That’s important, because knowing what that arc is early on, will help us figure out what kind of scenes to write, what their impact will have to be on the character and what types of decisions they will have to make along the way. Not in detail, not exactly what they will decide and do, but what kind of personal attitude and strength (or weakness) they must bring to the table in which part of the story.

https://veronicasicoe.com/2013/04/29/the-3-types-of-character-arc-change-growth-and-fall/

Wrapping it up

Character arcs do not have to look like one thing. Positive, negative, or flat… characters can go through different experiences. (Character development doesn’t always mean a character is getting better!) Being aware of your options will allow you to best match the arc to your story, and not be afraid of the less common character arcs.

https://writingcooperative.com/the-three-types-of-character-arcs-635c06d7459f

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