On Character Arcs by guest author Stephen Tremp

Character Arc: character arc is an inferred emotional or psychological development of a character as it unfolds throughout the story. Character arc is absolutely fundamental to story success. According to Larry Brooks it’ s not only how the character learns and grows as a result of their experiences within the story, but how they apply that learning toward their role as the primary catalyst in bringing about the conclusion of the story.

If the hero has something to learn at the beginning of the story (which should be the case), if they demonstrate (or hide) shortcomings and faults that are constantly separating them from what they need and want to achieve, chances are those are the consequences of having some inner demon that influences their decisions and actions. Where that inner demon comes from is back story.

Character arc and the conflict and tension it causes the main character forms the basis for many movies. The character has a particular viewpoint and through trials and tribulations, his viewpoint is changed, for better or worse. Preferably, the character overcomes his flaws and there is a happy ending or justice is served.

Example: In Michael Clayton, George Clooney’s character starts off with a major weakness: he is cynical and sees no admiral qualities in what he’s doing personally or professionally. However, by the end of the story, he changes completely in order to do the right thing. Storyline: A law firm brings in its “fixer” to remedy the situation after a lawyer has a breakdown while representing a chemical company that he knows is guilty in a multi-billion dollar class action suit.

In one of my daughter’s favorite movies, Beauty and the Beast, we easily see character arc unfold as the story progresses:

Simplified Breakdown:

1. Good looking prince who’s overconfident in himself (Flaws: arrogance and inability to love)
2. The prince gets turned into a monster and we learn that the spell can only be broken when he finds someone who loves him for who he really is (inner beauty)
3. He meets Belle, she’s reluctant at first but then through knowing and caring for her, he gets a more sympathetic heart and she learns to understand him.
4. His arrogance and inability to love is overcome. End of story. His lesson is learned.
Lights Film School

Equal Time: there are those who believe character arc is not all about change. Rather it is about growth. They will site examples such as Braveheart and The Fugitive. “Growth is all about whether or not the character is moving towards something or away from something – not whether or not they change. You can grow as a person and still hold on to your beliefs – they just get stronger.”.
Jim Hull

Stephen Tremp is author of the action thriller Breakthrough. You can visit Stephen at Breakthrough Blogs where Breakthrough is available for purchase and download to Kindle and Smashwords.

Breakthrough will be available through Amazon next week. Look for Opening this Fall of 2011 and Escalation Spring of 2012!

Breakthrough Synopsis

“A scientific breakthrough of such magnitude it could radically alter the future of humanity—for better or worse—is in the wrong hands.”

A scientific breakthrough in Einstein-Rosen Bridges, or wormholes, is stolen by a group of misguided M.I.T. graduate students. They scheme to usher in a global science-based oligarchy. Greed, betrayal, murder, mayhem, spiritual contemplation, and unconditional love define the power-play struggle in this fast-paced suspense thriller of technology gone too far. As the death toll mounts, will Chase Manhattan and a multi-faceted cast of characters escape their hit list and destroy the discovery which threatens life as we know it?


About jlwylie

Stay at home mom of 2 boys, avid reader and writer. Published by Untold Press

6 thoughts on “On Character Arcs by guest author Stephen Tremp

  1. Thanks Jennifer for hosting me today! Character Arc is one o my favorite topics to talk about. I believe characters need to go through the trials and tribulations that character arc demands in order to make them interesting. Readers need to form an affinity with the MC or a Love To Hate relationship with the villain, and character arc is a great way to accopmlish this.

  2. Steve, thanks for the interesting post. I just went through an online class that went over character arc, and I was planning my current work in progress at the same time. Thinking about the character arc of my main character turned out to be extremely helpful, and resulted in a much stronger initial chapter.

  3. Karen Cioffi says:

    Interesting post are character arc. I like your simplified breakdown of Beauty and the Beast; using even a brief outline is a good way to see a story’s arc. And, as Peggie mentioned seeing the arc can help foster a better beginning and develop the character.

  4. jen says:

    Great post Stephen! I loved this article on Character Arc

  5. Excellent article, Stephen. It is quite important to have your character grow and learn and change by the end of the story. Great examples. Thanks.

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