Character arc

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  • Character arc

    Hi guys and girls, just a question about character arcs/transformation.

    Does the character arc always have to result in the character gaining a new quality? For example, John starts off with low self esteem but by the end of the script he's now confident and sure of himself.

    Or can the character arc be more of a learning experience? For example Bob starts of thinking money will make him happy but by the end of the script he realises that he doesn't need money to make him happy.

    Please let me know. Thank you.

  • #2
    Re: Character arc

    Originally posted by Syringe View Post
    Hi guys and girls, just a question about character arcs/transformation.

    Does the character arc always have to result in the character gaining a new quality? For example, John starts off with low self esteem but by the end of the script he's now confident and sure of himself.

    Or can the character arc be more of a learning experience? For example Bob starts of thinking money will make him happy but by the end of the script he realises that he doesn't need money to make him happy.

    Please let me know. Thank you.
    all character arcs are about the character learning something or realizing something allowing them to ARC or change into something new.

    both your examples are the same...

    example #1) starts of as insecure becomes confident

    example #2) starts off as materialistic and becomes abstemious, spiritual, or faithful about love or happiness.

    both describe a change that occurs by their experiences. that is a character arc.
    "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

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    • #3
      Re: Character arc

      It can be either of those things or sometimes they don't change at all and just the people around them change because of them.

      In rom com, they find love. Did they change or did they just find someone to snuggle with?

      In action movies, they survive? Is that changing?

      So in the screenplay books they will go off on these things and give it many names -- but I always just took as "if it works for your story, make sure your character learns something from the experience" like a sitcom. Actual change is rare, usually more subtle.

      Like end of Jurassic Park, he learns he now likes kids.

      The Matrix -- that's a big change, because he learns he's basically superman and his entire life is fake.

      It's all over the place in my eyes.

      Mad Men -- did Don Draper ever change? Peggy Olson did.

      Ferris Bueller doesn't change, but Cameron does from the experience. And his sister changes her thoughts on him. But Ferris himself never changes.

      So just be true to your characters. Your story.

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      • #4
        Re: Character arc

        there are a lot of rules to what works... e.g. if it's a drama you need to have a prequel or set up and have external + internal conflict

        ...comedy is more of a character flaw

        McKee discuss it in-depth and ties the Arch type to the Arc of the character, debating the need for... if the character changes or the environment. The best example of this would be YoJimbo. But you can argue, does Tony Stark actually arc or does he change the world around him?

        e.g. Tony Stark starts off as a free willing fun billionaire. What does change, is who controls the weapons and his technology

        this is a basic theme of the Ironman movies, of sacrifice

        ...the character flaw adds a comedy element to and the drama is usually downplayed as much as possible for comedic turns
        Ricky Slade: Listen to me, I intentionally make this gun look that way because I am smart.

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        • #5
          Re: Character arc

          Thanks for your wisdom guys, very much appreciated.
          Last edited by Syringe; 05-20-2019, 12:01 PM.

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          • #6
            Re: Character arc

            Just a quick question. Is character arc just another term for the character's want/need? Or are they two separate components?

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            • #7
              Re: Character arc

              Originally posted by Syringe View Post
              Just a quick question. Is character arc just another term for the character's want/need? Or are they two separate components?
              The so-called character arc, in principle, is the resolution of that "want/need" aspect of the protagonist.

              That is why, in some ways, using the term "character arc" can sometimes be misleading because it implies that characters must necessarily change or transform over the course, but that's not necessarily true.

              Whether they do or not, or the nature of that change, whether it is good for them to change or bad, or whether it is good for them to remain unchanged or bad, all depends upon the nature of that "want/need" aspect of their character -- or sometimes that can be thought of as needs/desires in opposition.

              Depending on the nature of the character and the story, the character may need to change over the course of the story. He may be selfish and he may need to become selfless and the dramatic landscape through he passes has to give him the opportunity to make those critical dramatic choices that will allow him to pass from one state to another.

              Or, the choice may be between following a hard but morally correct course and -- doing something else.

              Any number of stories follow this course -- telling the story of the morally righteous hero who is tempted in various ways -- but stays on the straight and narrow -- remains true to himself and triumphs.

              The Hero of Gladiator, for instance, while he may have his low points over the course of the story, never truly changes -- he remains true to his essential nature through-out - and it is because he remains true to his character, to his essential nature that, though he dies in the end, is is really a sort of "happy" ending -- he achieves vengeance against the Emperor and, presumably, he joins his loved ones in paradise.

              No change in that character -- his triumph is by defying despair in the face of overwhelming odds and remaining true to his nature.

              Now, let's take someone like Michael in the Godfather -- he wants to do the right thing on the one hand -- but he loves his family on the other.

              Of course, if your family just made buttermilk biscuits, that wouldn't pose much of a moral dilemma, but his family is a bunch of murdering gangsters.

              That most does pose a moral dilemma -- and the structure of the story forces him to choose -- will I do the right thing or will I cross the line to protect my murderous criminal father -- who I happen to love.

              And he makes the wrong decision -- which we as the audience absolutely support at the time -- and the result leads him inevitably to damnation.

              So yes -- a character arc, but a tragic one. He changes from a good man to a bad one.

              MacBeth starts as a good man and ends a bad one.

              Richard the III starts as a bad man and stays bad.

              Henry V (at least in that play) starts as a good man and stays good.

              There weren't any mistakes made. When a change in the nature of the character - that is, a "character arc" as it's traditionally understood, was appropriate, then it was employed. When it was not, then it was not.

              Always, it has to do with the nature of that internal tension within the character.

              What does he want? How much is he prepared to give up to get whatever it is that he wants?

              Ultimately, that comes down to that question of want vs. need.

              Michael Corleone "wanted" to be a good man, but in the end, he "needed" the love and approval of his father and his family more. Being a good man was dispensable. Losing his father wasn't.

              Those choices determine how characters move through their respective dramatic landscapes -- whether it's a comedy, a drama, an action movie, or anything else.

              NMS

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