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April 15, 2016

What Is A Character Arc And Why Is It Important?

sand-768783_1920A character arc is related to the plot line of a story in that it effects and is effected by the plot. But it portrays the journey the character is taking inside his head as opposed to the one he is taking in the outside world.

A character arc is only going to exist in a certain type of story so before we talk any more about it let’s take a look at two different types of stories.


Plot Driven vs. Character Driven Stories

In plot driven fiction the events of the plot move the story forward and cause the characters to react. The characters take a back seat to the plot as they are effected by and react to the external world.

These types of stories are very common: Just think of writers like Tom Clancy, Stephen King and James Patterson. The characters don’t do a lot of contemplating their navels when there are bullets to avoid, mysteries to be solved and monsters about.

Character driven fiction is another beast completely.

In this type of story the character is the prime mover and moves the plot along through the decisions and choices they make along the way. This type of story is much more nuanced and, consequently, harder to write.

But, this type of story can also be much more insightful and truer to life than a plot driven story.


So, How Do I Create A Character Arc?geography-42608_1280

While plots can be fairly easy to design, the story has to go though point B before it gets from point A to point C, it gets more complicated when you involve the thoughts of the character.

In a thriller or mystery the character is compelled by the events of the plot to take action.

However, in a character driven story the discovery of a dead body might cause the main character to think about the events of his childhood before he even thinks about looking for the murderer, if he even does.

So, in this type of fiction you must take into consideration the character’s internal motivation for doing things before he acts in the external world or reacts to the events of that world.

It’s A Bit Of A Literary Dance

As the plot and the character arc play off each other they may change over time.

You may start writing your story with one plot in mind and find that, tango-108483_1280as your writing it, the character has changed his mind and wants to tell a different story.

This can be frustrating to say the least.

In order to keep these two dance partners dancing to the same tune you need to be keep some other things in mind.

Follow These Sign Posts To Get You To Where You Want To Go

If you’re having difficulty meshing the plot and the character arc step back and think about a few things first.

What kind of story are you writing?

Is it a romance novel?

If so, then the story needs to follow that general direction and it can’t devolve into something else.

Is it a western, an adventure story, a murder mystery?

Then let the expectations of the reader reading those genres help point you in the right direction.

Where does the conflict of the story lie?

There are 6 types of conflict.

Is it a conflict between the main character and himself or the main character and society as a whole? This will help you find your way too. For more on conflict click here.

What is the intended outcome of the story?sign-1064493_1280

Are you going to Albuquerque or Dublin? These are two completely different destinations and two completely different journeys.

To help guide you along the way you need to know your dramatic throughline. Does the character succeed, fail, give up?

These are simple questions but easily forgotten with everything else you have to do in your story. To understand the importance of the dramatic throughline click here.

To understand how to develop characters people will pay money to read click here.

And if you want more information on how to write a novel, publish it and market it online, click here.




  1. Ed Pierce July 3, 2016 2:19 pm

    I have never heard of character arc before but it makes a lot of sense. Having a strong story and developing strong characters depends on it. Whether the story is plot driven or character driven, reading your article and learning more about what a good character arc is, will help me with my own work. I am new to your site and find that I am learning so much already.

    • Jim Conway November 5, 2016 4:18 pm

      That’s great to hear Ed. I’m so glad. Just let me know if there is anything you would like this site to provide and I’ll try to provide it.


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