Character Arcs: Four Ways You Can Go

“Your character needs to grow.”

That was one of the pieces of writing advice that I repeatedly received early in my writing career.  The problem was that not all characters grew at least not as I defined it.  Changed, yes.  Grew, no.

Recently I stumbled on a blog post by Veronica Sicoe that explained it better.  According to Sicoe, there are several types of arcs.  She numbered them as three.  I’d go with four.  They are:

The Change Arc.  The hero has always had some special quality, something that makes him unique.  But in the course of the Hero’s Journey, he changes immensely.  He goes from being Normal Guy to Guy Hero.  Think Luke Skywalker in the early Star Wars movies.  He was a guy with a dream stuck on a backwater farm.  He reluctantly answers his call and becomes a Jedi.  This is also the type of change that occurs to Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games and Tris Prior in Divergent.

The Growth Arc.  In the Growth Arc, the character does grow but is still essentially the same person although a better version of himself.  Sicoe refers to this as Protagonist 2.0. In The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson, Gilly is the terror of foster care.  She decides to set up situation where her mother will come rescue her; that doesn’t happen but Gilly realizes her current family may be where she is meant to be.  She has grown.  (Ta da!)

The Shift Arc.  This one is very similar to the Growth Arc.  The character has a changing understanding and may develop a new skill but is essentially the same person.  Maybe she has discovered a new talent.  In Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Astrid learns that she can grow into her own interests and still be friends with girls who are following other paths.  She’s changed but not grown dramatically.

The Fall Arc.  I have to admit that this is my least favorite arc because your character fails in whatever it is she has et her heart on doing.  That said, I really enjoyed The Shattering by Karen Healey.  Keri is determined to prove that her brother was murdered.  There’s no way he committed suicide.  Obviously since this is a fall arc, she fails but you can’t help but love this unreliable narrator.  She doesn’t lie intentionally.  She wants to believe it is true.

So, not all characters grow.  Some change.  Some shift.  Some fall.   Which one will depend on your story.


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