Magic of Character Arcs – #008

Let’s face it. Who does not love a story where in the beginning the character is flawed and in need of fixing and comes out completely transformed by the movies end? That is the magic of character arcs. Character arcs are the transformation or innermost journey of a character over the progression of a story. They are the hidden jewel in any film. They are the intangibles in storytelling that makes a movie well worth the telling of it.  

Why are character arcs worth exploring in film?

Arcs plot the internal journey of your character. They are important because there are so many lessons that can be learned through growth and human nature. We learn about ourselves and the people around us. For storytellers, knowing the power of arcs is key to fashioning creative stories. Creating arcs in stories is easy as long as you stay open to the process. Keep asking questions about your character and you can have a character arc that even Stephen King would envy.

Let’s say you were to plot your journey as a high school freshman to a high school senior. You would start with the first day of your first year and maybe your mother is giving you a ‘pep talk’ in the car. Or maybe your father is giving the pep talk and it is his week with you because your parents are divorced. Are you nervous or confident about the first day? Do you have friends attending from middle school? Are you a jock or a nerd? Are you a musician? You nervously watch as other children enter the school. You watch and wait for the correct time to bail out of the car and disappear into the sea of students. You are at tipping a point in your life. You feel invisible. You feel unworthy and undeserving.

Let’s create a story and plot a character arc!

Second Wind

You the student will going on a fantastical journey for the next four years. There will be ups and downs and critical heart breaks along the way. Where do you live? Rural town? Metropolitan city? Where is your family ranked on the socioeconomic scale? Poor? Rich? Middle class? Are there bullies in the school? Are there drugs, drinking and sex involved? These external forces will help shape your story even further. They will help shape how you view yourself and your place in the world. You will experiment and take on friends who will expose you to different experiences. Do you have a girlfriend? Are you interested in girls? Maybe you are gay, trans, or other? Do you join a sports team or pursue other extracurricular activities? Is there a big game, tournament, talent show, or event you are obsessed about? Are these activities a rite of passage?

You take up cross country because you saw this beautiful sophomore smile at you on your first day. She’s a runner so you run to get close to her even though she is out of your league. Something happens while you are out running one day. You achieve this second wind, and it is blissful. There is a oneness of body, mind, and soul. All your problems seem to drift by the roadside. There is something about running that seems to put your crazy world into the right perspective. You find out that you are not the best runner, but you do have a love for it. Running keeps you focused and grounded. You stay away from gangs. You avoid the trappings of drugs and teenage pregnancy. You begin to fit in and find your place on the team. These friendships allow for you see life on the other side. You realize that life could better or worst. Your confidence is slowly developing. You begin to find your own voice.

It’s your senior year and there is so much on the line. You made the team by default, not by skill. You want to contribute to the team’s success and go out with a bang. So, you train. You train like your life depends on it. Your crush comes back from college to watch the team compete. She sees you. She wishes you luck. You tell her your name and she replies, “I know who you are.” At that moment something that has been developing in you for the last few years just clicks. You run your race and finish with your best time. Although you didn’t win the race, your time and place contribute to the team winning overall state championship. Your friends are proud and happy for you. You parents stop arguing long enough to enjoy this moment. Your crush gives you her number and invites you up visit her college campus.  People see you and you are not invisible any longer. Were you ever really invisible?

The End

This is an example of a character arc that defines the character’s internal journey. We can clearly chart the character’s beginning. We can chart the actual journey through to the end. Our character went from feeling invisible to feeling and knowing that he is visible and seen. He goes on to have validating experiences that were reinforced throughout his high school experience.   That is the marvel of storytelling. That is the power of character arcs.

As always be inspired be encouraged and be collaborative.

Saki Bomb

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