Great stories are marked by change and one of the main ways to implement change in your story is by using character arcs. Arcs are essential story tools that directly or indirectly show change from the beginning to the end of the story. There are 4 types of character arcs: Hero’s Journey, Positive Change, Negative Change, and Flat Arc. By using arcs effectively, you will create engaging and 3-dimensional characters that push your story all on their own. So, here is a breakdown of each arc with examples that’ll help you implement them into your own story.
1. Hero’s Journey
In this story, the main character changes from an everyman to a fully capable hero. An example of this is Buggsy in THE KINGSMAN. He starts out as a missguided kid on the track of being in and out of jail for the rest of his life. But by the end of his story, he grows internally by externally gaining the skills necessary to become a world-class spy. In his maturity, he saves the world from destruction. So, if you're struggling with that script about your grandma becoming a kick a$$ superhero, take a look at THE KINGSMAN and other movies that have a hero’s journey arc to learn the rules of effective hero storytelling.
2. Positive change:
This arc is similar to the Hero’s Journey but is not as dramatic. It entails a protagonist that has a negative outlook of the world but over the course of the story, they develop positive world views and heal their internal wounds. An example of this arc is HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS. He starts as a green, grumpy a$$hole causing trouble for the people of Whoville. But by the end of the film, he saves Christmas and feels genuinely happy while maintaining his standoffish attitude that made him famous.
3. Negative Change
We can thank Shakespeare for this one. Better known as the tragedy, this story starts with a kind character that leans into their wound and results in their demise. This arc is most famous in crime and drug related film/tv shows like THE GODFATHER. Michael Corleone starts out as the squeaky clean army vet who is bound by blood to a crime family. But by the end of the story, his need for power consumes him. To make this work, find out your character's tragic flaw, whether it be ego, greed, or stubbornness. Lean into that, and let them take you on a ride to their demise. (Evil laugh*)
4. Flat Arc
This arc is found in most action and thriller movies. A flat arc is when the protagonist doesn’t change throughout the story but everything and everyone around them does. A great example of this is Katniss Everdeen in THE HUNGER GAMES. She starts out as a person who will risk her life for her family and believes that the Capital is filled with sadistic oppressors that need to be taken down. In fact, Katniss reluctantly becomes the hero because her natural instincts overpower her want to shy away from the spotlight. This mentality never changes and her resolve carries her and her supporting members to victory in the end.
So, the next time you open up your script, see what arcs best first your main characters. It’ll help you create an engaging story that agents and execs don't want to put down and get you closer to your coins!
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-Written by Collin Shaw
Shannan E. Johnson, CEO