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A character arc is the transformation or inner journey[1] of a character over the course of a story. If a story has a character arc, the character begins as one sort of person and gradually transforms into a different sort of person in response to changing developments in the story. Since the change is often substantive and leading from one personality trait to a diametrically opposite trait (for example, from greed to benevolence), the geometric term arc is often used to describe the sweeping change. In most stories, lead characters and protagonists are the characters most likely to experience character arcs,[2] although lesser characters often change as well.[1] A driving element of the plots of many stories is that the main character seems initially unable to overcome opposing forces, possibly because they lack skills or knowledge or resources or friends. To overcome such obstacles, the main character must change, possibly by learning new skills, to arrive at a higher sense of self-awareness or capability. Main characters can achieve such self-awareness by interacting with their environment, by enlisting the help of mentors, by changing their viewpoint, or by some other method.

Dramatic narrative structure

Main article: Dramatic structure

Throughout the trajectory of narratives with a tripartite structure, character arcs often unfold beside the narrative arc in the following way:

First act

During the first act, the character arc is established or re-established for at least one character, the main character (the protagonist), within the exposition (noument) of the environment including relationships to other characters. Later in the first act, a dynamic, on-screen incident, known as the inciting incident, or catalyst occurs that confronts the protagonist, whose attempts to deal with this incident lead to a second and more dramatic situation, known as the first turning point. After the first turning point, life will never be the same for the protagonist and raises a dramatic question that will be answered in the climax of the story. The dramatic question should be framed in terms of the protagonist's call to action, for example, Will X recover the diamond? Will Y get the girl? Will Z capture the killer?[3]

Second act

During the second act, also referred to as "rising action", the character arc develops as the protagonist attempts to resolve the problem initiated by the first turning point, only to discover ever-worsening situations, which often lead to the learning of new skills, the discovery of capabilities, and (sometimes late in the second act if at all) the raising of self-awareness.[3]

Third act

During the third act, including the climax, "falling action" and resolution (denouement), the narrative arc is completed although the character arc typically is not. During the climax, because the main tensions of the story are brought to their most intense point and the dramatic question is answered, a character arc reaches a place where the character gains a new sense of who they are becoming. As the plot and its subplots resolve, the character arc's emphasis shifts from the learning of any new skills or the discovery of dormant capabilities to the awakening of a higher level of self-awareness, which in turn changes who the character is becoming.[3]

Examples

In literature

Some examples include:

In film

Some examples include:

In television

Like a story arc, which often is composed of many narrative arcs, the character arc is not confined within the limits of one narrative. The character arc may extend over to the next story, a sequel, or another episode. In episodic TV series, the character arc functions as a narrative hook that writers often use to ensure viewers continue watching.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ a b Gerke (2010, p. 79)
  2. ^ Bell (2004, p. 142)
  3. ^ a b c Trottier (2010)

References