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Character Development

Tip: read these articles in sequence starting with Conflict


 Character Development drives Conflict 

All stories are about people, even when they're about rabbits. And the stories that move us most, the ones that stick inside years later, are those inhabited by characters we can connect with and admire.

And no characters resonate more than those who in the course of a story learned how to transcend their own flaws and weaknesses to do something great—this is known as a Character Arc.

And by great I don’t mean saving the world, for often the quietest moments are the ones in which characters find their greatness. The moments that truly define us are almost always personal, times when we’re able to overcome our own limitations and rise to be something more.

Character Arcthe rocky path of personal growth and development a character undergoes in a story, usually unwillingly, during which the character wrestles with and eventually overcomes some or all of a serious emotional fear, limitation, block or wound.

In a character's development he or she might overcome:

o     lack of courage or inner doubts

o   lack of ethics

o   learning to love

o   guilt

o   trauma from the past

o   errors in thinking, etc.

Weaknesses, imperfections, quirks and vices make a character more real & appealing. They humanize a character. The audience can identify with them. Flaws and imperfections give a character somewhere to go and progress toward in the story. The development of a character is only interesting if they overcome something.

A great example of a character arc – Tom Cruise’s character in "Rain Man."

Character ArcBeginning – Cruise is a ruthless car dealer who kidnaps his autistic brother because he feels cheated about not receiving any money from his father's will.

End of Arc – After a cross-country journey with his brother, he learns the importance of family and turns down the money.

Role of a Character Arc

  • Keeps the tension high and the conflict going.
  • Serves as the “inner” conflict and is always mirrored by the story's “outer” conflict.
    • e.g. DieHard: Inner conflict = overcome internal weaknesses to be able to get back together with wife; Outer conflict = fight bad guys who have taken over wife’s building.
  • The Arc is the internal change the hero goes through in a story.
    • It can be positive change of character—a happy ending
    • Or a negative or no change—which gives us a tragedy.
      • Characters who remain essentially the same from beginning to end are fatally flawed. They have learned nothing from their experience and have shown no growth.
    • Or the character is already ‘good’ and doesn’t change (e.g. James Bond, Braveheart, John Wayne).

 Development of a Character Arc

  • Personal changes in a Character’s Arc require smooth development—changing is really hard.

  • 2D verses 3D character development

    • 2DJumping changes in character create 2 dimensional characters.
    • 3DShow the natural, step-by-step development of a character.
      • Show how the personal beliefs that cause internal flaws are torn away little by little by forces within a character and by his surroundings.
      • Small conflicts/transitions as the character evolves from one state of mind to another in a slow even pace until he is compelled to make a life changing decision.

The Best Books on Character


>> See More Books about Writing a Novel or Film Script


  Read article about Character Arc and Story Structure