Category Archives: Character Arc

Character Arc and Change

Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.

Isaac Asimov

In the Character is Everything workshop, we’ve been spending a great deal of time talking about and trying to understand the idea of “change” as it applies to the Main Character.  It is a discussion of the “character arc.”  And, when we talk about change and the character arc we are also discussing conflict, motivation and the super objective in the story.

Change is not a single event, thing or motivation.  It is a continuum; a range of change in a story.   Your Main Character begins in one place—physically and emotionally; and, over the course of the telling of the story, moves through and experiences the events of the plot, finally arriving at the end of the telling.

In the most basic of ways, the point of telling a story is to communicate the final turn—the final change, at the moment of the finale or the climax.  Here, the Main Character has over-come any and all obstacles (Internal and/or Externally), and has finally reached their goal (the Super Objective).   Either prior to or during the unfolding of this final turn the Main Character has come to some final decision or understanding which enables them to come to the place where they are able to over come the last obstacle and story ends.  This is true whether the story may be the most subtle of post-modernist story telling or the grandest of action and adventure stories.  It is the very point of story telling.  It is the culmination of the learning for the audience; the reason they’ve turned the page, or sat in their seat during all that has gone before.

The question becomes: How do you do that?

How do you know create an effective final moment so that the reader/audience has that emotional connection with the Main Character at the end; and, understands, both for themselves and the Main Character, what the learning or revelation is at the end?

Often, it’s easier to work backwards in figuring this out.  I have found it effective to ask myself; what is it I’m looking to learn by creating this story?  If, I can honestly answer this question of what it is I’m looking to learn, it is usually a short process for me to come to a decision on what the Main Character’s final change/turn and revelation/learning are in the story itself.

The Main Character then has purpose; which in turn becomes their driving force, their desire or passion—the Super Objective.

Once I have made a decision about the Main Character’s Super Objective, I can now begin a process of discovering how (the plot) they get to it, and the why (the character changes) they go through to obtain the Super Objective.

Let’s put this in practical terms.  For this discussion, let’s assume I am creating a story because I’m fascinated by the idea of revenge.  So, in turn, I give my Main Character the Super Objective of revenge.  There are a myriad of ways to spin the Learning/Revelation at the end, yet allow for the Main Character to obtain their revenge.  But, let’s keep this simple.  Ask yourself, what is an oppositional position from revenge?  Sympathy?  Forgiving?  Obedience?  Anyone of these words are great circumstances for your Main Character to begin the story.

Now, you have a beginning and an end for your Main Character’s range of change.  As the story opens, they are obedient, sympathetic and/or forgiving; and, as the story unfolds, they seek and obtain revenge.  That is a clear and focused character arc.