What makes a great character arc #amwriting

Characters are not robots, and they need to have emotions if we are to identify and invest in getting to know them. A character arc is where the character grows or transitions. Fundamentally, they are about how our characters change. While writing a book doesn’t necessarily mean you need a character arc, many great stories do include one.

Personally, I love watching characters evolve, and some of my favourite books and movies have a strong character arc.

Dune (Movie and book)

I have read the book and watched the movie, and this is one of those that managed, in my opinion, to do a great film version too. Although the story was far richer in the book, I enjoyed the whole steampunk aspect the cinematography and so forgave the movie some of its flaws.

It’s a great story for many reasons, one being that the baddies are so unashamedly depraved that you want to reach into the book and kill them slowly and painfully.

The main reason I like this story though, is because of the hero’s character growth.


So what happens to the main character? Well the hero begins his journey by being thrown (as usual) into a great big vat of conflict. He comes from a wealthy family, has a position of standing – good prospects is probably an understatement. Then his family is killed, brutally, he escapes.

So that alone is pretty game changing. He has been ripped from his idilic, coveted life, and cast out into the unknown. He is taken into an underground world, where he needs to fight to survive, and has to prove himself to be accepted.

He becomes their leader.

He becomes the catalyst to bring about their freedom.

He becomes something more than an ordinary man.

This is not a new or original journey but it is a powerful passage, and one that I enjoyed. There is something very spine tingling about the end of this – where he becomes the ‘one’ who is something more than others. It was a very similar transition for Neo at the end of the first matrix – you feel a sense of pure condensed ‘awesome’ when Neo finally kicks the agent’s butts.

The same in Dune, only possible more so. He was the rich kid – turned rebel – turned rebel leader – who ended up more than human. It felt to me at the end as if he had almost become a God (anyone who can kill his enemies with a thought is pretty damn impressive as far as I am concerned!).

In short I loved the emotional journey that he went through, and the culmination of this journey when he finally becomes all powerful.

Down side? or just something different?

For me I do like to see a shift in values of my characters. In Dune the hero was fundamentally good – bad stuff happens – he overcomes it – he is still fundamentally good.

What about someone who is not so good at the start? Maybe a little reluctant? Partakes in dubious activities? Who by the end of the story is a bonafide hero? I am, of course, referring to Han Solo, and another great example of a character arc. Ok, so he didn’t turn into a God who could nuke people with a word – but his was still a powerful transition.

Great article on the subject of You Need More Scoundrels in Your Life

Like this topic? More on The Hero’s Journey

4 thoughts on “What makes a great character arc #amwriting

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