A character arc, sometimes called a through-line or inner journey, is how a character changes. The arc is the story of the character within the story of your script. A character will hopefully start in one place and end up in another—– a beginning, a middle, and an end.

But why is it important that a character changes? Every writer knows their character needs to have a path where they go through an internal transformation, but why does it matter?

Why is a Character Arc Important to the Audience?

People have been watching stories forever. From sitting around a campfire to streaming shows on their phone, human beings love watching stories about human beings. We are emotionally compelled by watching people face problems.

We see ourselves in the character, and the conflicts they encounter affirm our own challenges. We know we are not alone. Stories give us meaning and context for our lives. Story affirms our values and gives us faith in the world and the people in it.

Every day has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And we are watching our own lives, constantly aware of where we are in our own stories.

We watch ourselves change inside. We see how the world affects us and we adapt. Our heartbreaks mark us. Our mistakes make us smarter. We learn and become better.

So when we watch a character in a story change in the face of their own lives, we’re able to see the importance of our own journey. The knowledge that our own hard-fought transformations have great meaning makes us happier.

Okay. Character arcs gratify audiences. Well, good ones do.

What’s a Good Character Arc?

We want the kind of character arc that emotionally fulfills someone in your audience. That’s your goal. If the audience has an emotional experience, they tell other people and the TV show or movie becomes a commercial success.

Good character arcs are long, contain great challenges, and reveal a considerable change in the characters by the end of the story.

A good character arc starts at the very start of your story and does not wrap up until the very end. The more a character changes, the stronger the impact on the audience, as this reflects their life experience.

Your character has to face problems, and they should be big, plausible, and difficult to solve. So difficult, the audience cannot see how they will ever be solved. These problems are why the character changes. They have to change or they won’t be able to resolve the conflicts they face.

By the end of your script, your character should be transformed by the world they’ve traveled. They have experienced life and the audience will recognize that experience.

What’s the Best Way to Write a Compelling Path for your Character?

The simplest way to write a long, compelling arc for your character is to personally identify with your character. Have you faced the unknown? What problems have you encountered that you had no idea how you were going to solve? Have you seen how you have changed? Understand how your life has changed you. What challenge would scare you? Give your character that challenge. Write without knowing the end. You have lived life that way.

Using your own arc in life is a practical way to organize the story of your character. Everything starts somewhere, and one day, everything is resolved. And sometimes, it’s not, and that’s the story, too. Either way, knowing how a good character arc impacts an audience helps us structure our characters within our scripts. And bringing our lives—–good times and bad—–to the writing process gives us our best chance at original, authentic work.

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