We all have our own unique experiences in life. Yet there are consistencies that make us similar to one another.

We all go through different stages in life, whether it’s graduating from high school, finding a career, getting married, or having children.

In literature and film, these stages are called character arcs.

A character arc is a literary term for the life-altering changes experienced by a character in a story.

A character arc is most obvious in works of literature and film, but it also applies to any other genre where a protagonist plays an active role in the story.


What Is a character arc

What Is a character arc in literature and film?

A character arc is the change in a character from the beginning of a story to its end. It can be simply positive or negative, or it can be more complex.

For example, a character may begin with one flaw and develop into someone who conquers that flaw by the conclusion of the story.

The main characters in literature and film can undergo extensive changes, but they are not always obvious to the audience.

Therefore, it is up to writers to ensure these changes are clear and purposeful. This is often done through an introductory event or catalyst that introduces a problem for the character to overcome during the story arc.



The most common type of character arc is when an underdeveloped or lacking quality within a character changes over time as he or she learns from his or her mistakes and grows from them.

The change may be slow or fast depending upon the conflict that makes him learn something new about himself.

What Is A Character Arc?

Character arcs are made up of four elements, which together help to illustrate how the protagonist overcomes their inner struggles and grows throughout the course of the story:

The Antagonist

The opposite of the protagonist. The antagonist can be anyone or anything that gets in the way of the protagonist’s goals.

It could be another person, a goal they seek, or even something they avoid.

The Desire

The need that drives your character forward to achieve his or her ultimate goal.

This can be an outer desire (to get out of debt) or an inner desire (to find happiness) that propels your character along his or her journey.


The obstacles your protagonist faces along his or her journey.


These are things that prevent your character from achieving his or her desire and may cause him/her to doubt himself/herself.

These may be internal conflicts as well as external conflicts with other characters in the story.

How To Write A Character Arc

Character development is about change. Characters should go through a process of some kind and ultimately undergo some kind of transformation as a result.

The character arc is the structure that underpins all this, and one way to identify it is to start at the end.

Towards the end of the book, your characters should have reached the point at which they’ve changed as a result of whatever events have taken place. That’s not to say that they’re perfect or that they’ve become their own idealized selves, but rather that their lives have improved in some significant way—and that’s what you’re aiming for.

How will you get there? By knowing how a character arc works, you can ensure that your character development takes readers on an emotional journey with them and ends up at an emotional destination they’ll be able to accept and where they can enjoy being.

Character arcs are made up of phases:

The first phase is one in which the character grows from his or her original state. This phase is called transformation because it’s when your character goes from Point A to Point B, usually by being put into a situation in which she has to choose between two alternatives or two states of being. 

Character Change Over Time

I was inspired to write this blog after reading a post from Lori Brewer (click here to see her post: http://loribrewer.com/character-change-over-time/ ) where she writes, “Show change over time. In the last few years we’ve seen more and more of the same old character in series after series, especially in young adult novels.

There are so many ways to explore what makes us who we are as people. Not every character needs to have a traumatic childhood experience or a dark and terrible secret that’s revealed at the end.”

My thoughts exactly.

We read stories because they allow us to experience the lives of others. Reading about the struggles of others can teach us, shape our opinions and broaden our perspectives.

But if we’re reading about characters who can’t change, then we’re not really experiencing their lives—we’re just reading about them over and over again.

Character change is critical for readers to stay engaged in your novel. If you don’t show how your character changes she will seem flat and two dimensional.

Have you ever met anyone who hasn’t changed over time? I haven’t either!

Do you want your readers to be bored with your characters? Of course not! 


Types Of Character Arcs

Character arcs are the most important part of a book and the most difficult to get right. It is said that, “There are two ways to write: with your heart or with your brain.

The heart is where you feel things. The brain is what makes it make sense.” meaning that there are two ways to write a character arc: by using your heart and putting in your own experiences into the story, or by using your brain and making sure that everything you do is logically sound.

But remember, no matter how much you plan out a character arc, it’s never set in stone. A character can change paths at any time!

The first type of character arc is the one we see all of the time: the hero’s journey or monomyth or call it what you will. This is because this is the tried-and-true path for most characters.

You have just about every story written in this format whether it’s Star Wars or Harry Potter.

The main character starts off weak and ignorant of their world but then through various trials and tribulations grows into a better person who can save those around them from evil forces (or themselves).

Analyzing The Best Character Arcs

A great character arc is one of the most satisfying parts of reading a good novel. It’s a story that, within the span of a few hundred pages, changes someone’s life.

And it doesn’t just happen. In literature and other forms of storytelling, character arcs tend to be carefully planned out and executed.

Whether it’s the hero or villain who undergoes this change, or if they do it together, it’s important to know what makes an effective arc and how to analyze it.

What is a character arc?

To get started on analyzing a particular character arc, you need to be able to define what one is. A character arc is essentially the progression of a character throughout the course of a story.

These arcs are often referred to as “growth”, since characters tend to learn something during their journey that causes them to change their ways (or at least attempt to).

These arcs can be simple or complex; they can have happy endings or sad ones; they can be subtle or obvious; but in each case, they are integral parts of creating realistic characters that readers care about.

Good Character Arc Definition

What is a character arc?

Character arcs are the changes that happen to your characters during the story. This could be a change in their personality, in their opinions, in the way they relate to other characters, or even a physical change.

There are two different types of character arc that you need to be aware of:

The first one is the external change of the character, meaning how their actions are changing due to whatever conflict is currently happening.

For example, if this character experiences a conflict because he lost his leg in an accident, then he would be forced to walk with crutches for the rest of his life. In this case we are talking about an actual physical change that happens to the character.

The second type of character arc is an internal change, meaning how the mind and thoughts of your character are being changed overtime by learning from mistakes and encountering different situations. This can be caused by previous events in your novel or it can happen as a result of new conflicts that appear throughout your story.

Maybe you already have some ideas regarding your main characters but don’t know how to develop it further?

Or maybe you’re just wondering what a good character arc should look like? Don’t worry because I’ve got you covered!

Good Character Arc Examples

There’s no magic recipe for creating a good character arc, but we’re going to look at one of the most successful examples of a character arc in film history: Luke Skywalker from the original Star Wars trilogy.

The character arc of Luke Skywalker was well-developed over the course of the films, and his story had enough twists and turns that it was hard to anticipate how it would end up. (If you don’t remember what happens to him, stop reading and go watch Star Wars.)

Character arcs are not just something you find in film; they can work well in novels as well.

Here’s an example of a character arc that is not particularly successful: The main character starts out as a bad guy, but he eventually realizes he has been wrong about life and becomes good. You knew from the beginning that he was a bad guy, so that part wasn’t surprising.

The fact that he became good wasn’t surprising either because you already knew he was struggling with it at the beginning.

Negative Character Arc Definition

A negative character arc is a plot device that makes the antagonist in a story less sympathetic to the viewer or reader as the story progresses.

A negative character arc is typically used in stories that feature villains, anti-heroes, or other characters whose actions are deemed less than desirable by the audience. The concept of a negative character arc can also be applied to some protagonists and other characters, but this is far less common and often not necessary for the overall story.

Tristan Harris, a former product manager at Google, explains what a negative character arc looks like in practice: “The Hunger Games movies have an example of this. In the first movie, Katniss is on a local TV show and she’s asked who she’s going to send her winnings to.

She says she’ll send them back home to her family. In the last movie, when she’s asked this question again, she says she’ll send it to her stylist.”

He illustrates how Katniss’ answer has changed from something noble and selfless to something more self-centered over time: “It’s much easier to get people to empathize with you when you seem selfless. 

Negative Character Arc Example

If you want to know what a negative character arc is, you’ve come to the right place. Although it’s a complex literary term, we’ll do our best to break it down for you.

A character arc is the path taken by a character as he or she evolves throughout the course of a story. There are three general types of literary arcs: positive, negative and flat.

A positive arc occurs when a character moves from one state of being (negative) to another (positive). Thus, the overall effect is an improvement in his or her quality of life.

A negative arc is just the opposite. In this type of story, we see a downfall in the quality of life as we watch a character spiral downward into darkness and despair. A flat arc occurs when there’s no change at all in a character during the course of a story.

The main reason this type of arc isn’t commonly seen is that it often feels more like an incomplete story than anything else, which is usually why writers opt for one of the other arcs instead.

But, this shouldn’t discourage you from writing your story anyway! You may have one specific purpose in mind that requires you to tell a flat arc tale.

Importance Of Types Of Character Arcs

If you’re reading this post, chances are that, as a writer, you’ve either experienced or heard of a lot of different character arcs. The most popular ones are the hero’s journey and the flaw-driven arc.

There are numerous other character arcs that can be used in fiction; however, I’ll discuss two more of them that I think are very important and should be used by any writer who is serious about his/her craft:

This type of character arc is considered “special” because it is not very frequently used. This is usually due to the fact that most writers don’t even know about this type of arc.

The special character arc is any arc where the main character does not change for the better or for the worse.

This type of character arc is also known as a flat arc because there’s no rise or fall in terms of development. The character may experience some sort of conflict (internal or external) but they don’t really change by the end.

The reason why this type of arc is so valuable to writers is because it provides realism and relatability to the story. When writers use flat arcs, their readers are able to see themselves in those characters. 

How To Write A Positive Change Character Arc

In a story, the character arc is the trajectory of a character’s change over time.

It’s possible to write a story in which the main character experiences no change at all, but most stories (particularly novels) contain at least some degree of character growth. This growth can help define the plot and create tension within it.

Tension is often created by a gap between who a character is and who he or she wants to be. A good story will have characters who want things that are difficult for them to obtain, or who want things they’re not even aware of yet.

The greater the gap between where the character is and where he or she wants to be, the greater the tension in both plot and character development.

How To Write A Positive Change Character Arc

You might think that changing from one positive quality to another positive quality would make for a boring character arc. But if you do it right, you can create a very engaging story with this kind of change as your main plot point.

Here is a tip on how to write a positive change character arc:

Pick two positive qualities that are very different from each other (for example, courage and patience). If you pick two attributes that aren’t that far apart on the spectrum it won’t leave.

How To Write A Negative Change Character Arc

There are many different types of character arcs, but the most common is the Negative Change arc. In this particular type, the character goes from bad to worse and then turns themselves around by the end of the story.

Tristan from the film Tristan & Isolde is a prime example of a typical Negative Change arc. The film begins with Tristan being killed in battle after he drinks a potion given to him by his uncle which causes him to fall in love with Isolde, an arranged bride of his uncle, who hates him.

As a dead man walking, Tristan is brought home and buried in his castle’s graveyard where he is able to look on Isolde from afar. But soon, he finds himself revived by Isolde’s tears and they both find themselves falling deeply in love with one another.

Unfortunately, their love cannot be together because of their statuses as family members and they eventually must part ways.

After time away from each other, Tristan decides that he needs to give up on his love for her, so he travels back home where he serves his uncle loyally again and becomes a great leader. 

The Art Of The Character Arc

Have you ever read a book that was so gripping, so impossible to put down, that you became physically ill when you reached the final page?

The kind of book that leaves you plagued by midnight musings about the characters and what happened next?

The kind of book for which any familial or professional obligation is an afterthought, because nothing else matters until you know how it ends?

The hard truth is, these kinds of books are few and far between. It takes a certain level of skill to create a work of fiction that grabs someone by the heart and shakes them until they’re emotionally drained.

For such a novel to be truly successful, it needs more than just an intriguing plotline and relatable characters. It needs a strong emotional core that resonates with readers on a very personal level. More often than not, this core can be found in the character arc.

To put it quite simply, the character arc is simply the journey your protagonist undertakes as he or she goes from Point A to Point B in your narrative.

Some writers choose to follow the traditional concept of the three-act structure (beginning, middle, end) and divide their stories into three distinct parts: Act I = Point A; Act II = Point C; Act III = Point B.