A character arc is the transformation a character goes through from the beginning to the end of the story, the stages he (or she) goes through, and the psychological or emotional growth this process entails.
For you to understand it better, I’ll show you how you can create your own character arcs.
Types of Character Arc
1. Subjective – The evolution of the character can be moral, ideological, psychological, etc. It has to be an internal transformation. To take a familiar example, the character of Chandler in Friends is an immature, somewhat cynical, and commitment-phobic guy who gradually evolves into a committed, sensitive, and responsible husband and father.
2. Objective – This refers to the external evolution of the character and the outer changes that affect his life. Going back to the previous example, at the beginning of the sitcom, Chandler is single, lives with a friend, and has a boring job. However, in the last season of the series, he is married to Monica, is a father to their children, and has a creative job.
Evolution of the Character Arc
Every character arc, whether objective or subjective, develops in one of these four ways:
1. Positive – There is a transition from a bad situation to a good situation (or at least to a better state). It’s the arc that leads to happy endings (the example of Chandler in Friends would represent a positive character arc).
2. Negative – This evolution is the opposite of a positive character arc. The character’s circumstances get worse, and the story has a tragic ending.
3. Neutral – Here the character stays the same, and his situation doesn’t suffer any change. However, he has had an opportunity to gain knowledge throughout the story. In this case, the character must have a very strong personality (such as Sherlock Holmes or James Bond). Otherwise, the character’s lack of evolution can be interpreted as a tragic fact. As readers and spectators, we want the characters to grow and develop.
4. Mixture – Sometimes a character can experience more than one character arc. For example, a negative objective arc where a character is alive at the beginning of the story but then dies of a terminal illness at the end. This arc can then mix with a positive subjective arc where, due to the illness that winds up killing the character, he must face different obstacles that teach him an important lesson. This lesson, in turn, causes him to improve on a psychological level.
How to Show a Character Arc
A character doesn’t change all at once. He either undergoes a gradual evolution as a consequence of the story’s events, or a powerful occurrence (a turning point) transforms him. The change always has to be believable and explainable.
Changes in a character can be shown in many different ways through his actions, words, attitude, values, clothes, habits, etc. If these changes are subtle, it’s advisable not to explain them too much in order for the reader to detect them by reading between the lines. This will make your story more interesting (I don’t know about you, but I hate to be spoon fed every aspect of it!).
Thanks for reading and sharing. Happy writing!