Simply put, a character arc takes its form when a character starts the story off with a certain viewpoint and then through trials and tribulations, that viewpoint changes. Essentially, the arc is the emotional or psychological growth, transformation and development of your character. A positive change in a character leads to a happy ending. A negative change or no change in a character leads to a tragic ending.

The Arc’s Purpose:

  • A character arc ensures there is conflict
  • The arc supports tension
  • The character’s inner turmoil (internal) also helps you externalize the conflict because if you know what a character’s fears and flaws are, you’ll know what to put in their way as obstacles. This is especially important for the second act of your screenplay.

At the root of a character arc is a character’s position in life and their flaws. For example some protagonists may start out “low” and end “high” (i.e. rags to riches stories such as Rocky or any other underdog film). Or the protagonist will start “high” and end “low” (or start out low and end low). These are usually tragedies in some form where a character is resistant to change. This refusal to change becomes their fatal flaw which inevitably leads to their demise. We’ve written and entire blog post on character archetypes here, so we won’t go into that again.

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Message by:  Lights Film School
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A character arc is best understood by examining which flaws or ideas your protagonist needs to overcome. Some common ones include greed, arrogance & envy and through your protagonist’s trials, tribulations and circumstances their views will likely change.

Let’s look at an example:

Film title: Beauty and the Beast:

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 in learned.

A character’s arc doesn’t always need to manifest itself in such a dramatic way.  You don’t have to start off with terrible character and then make him the nicest guy on the block. For instance, look at Andy from the film 40 Year Old Virgin. He’s a Nice a nice guy throughout, but he’s flawed and that “flaw” becomes the backbone of his character arc.

Have fun experimenting with character arc in your own scripts! Good luck.

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