Character arcs. Every writer bite their nails over these. Readers too, though for you guys, you probably don’t bite your nails, pull on your hair, and pace your rooms for nearly as many hours as writers do over them.
Before we dive into why character arcs are important, we need to answer what exactly is a character arc? Most people understand it to be a change a character undergoes: the farm boy turned hero, the pauper turned princess, the arrogant king humbled. I’d argue that, that’s a much too simplified, much too diluted definition. It works, of course, for many people but not for me, and it probably shouldn’t for you either if you’re 1000% dedicated to your craft.
Don’t give me the surprised look. Whether you’re a seasoned writer of a hundred moons or a newbie dipping a tentative hand into a new hobby, you should know nothing is as simple as it seems in writing.
Character Arcs and Human Nature
You don’t need a keen artist’s eye to see that there we are intrinsically imperfect as human beings. Just take a look at the world around you or at the lives of those in your social circle or even your own life. Think about the mistakes we make as people everyday. Think about all the ways we can improve and grow.
Why couldn’t keep my mouth shut against gossip just this once? Why didn’t I speak up when my boss blamed the wrong person? Why did I shout at my wife again? Why do I still freeze up when my crush talks to me? Why is my heart so calloused towards the people living on the streets?
Bit of a side note, but isn’t it odd that we have this notion that our human nature is somehow flawed in the first place? To say something is flawed, we must be able to hold that something up to a perfect version of itself for comparison, but if all humans are flawed, or from the Christian perspective sinful, then where did our notion of perfection come from? I delved into this vein of thought a few months back in another post.
Where there are humans, there will be human nature. Where there is human nature, there are bound to be flaws. Where there are flaws, there is room for improvement. Where there is such potential, there is a story. That’s the general flow of reasoning in most storytelling scenarios. Of course, there are other angles to approach a story, but seeing how today we’re studying the character arc, let’s keep our approach character centered.
A Character Arc Case Study
Oftentimes what makes a story oh-so-satisfying in the end is a character arc. Take for example Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (SPOILER ALERT AHEAD). Recall the rush of elation, the surge of triumph welling in your chest as Miles took that leap of faith off the glass building and “What’s Up Danger” began to blast. Did you silently scream, “Yes! Yes! He finally did it! Yes!”? Or did you grip your seat, trembling, utterly mesmerized by the color, the cinematography, the character growth you were witnessing?
Character arcs encourage the real life humans–you and me–to want to keep growing ourselves. They promise that though human nature is flawed, fixes are possible with effort, determination, and sometimes a little bit of fortune or divine oversight.
We see Miles overcome his fears and self-doubt to transform into a hero and not just any ol’ friendly neighborhood spider man who “saved a bunch of people, fell in love, saved the city. Then saved the city again” but into a hero that’s unique to his identity as a goofy yet dedicated 16 year old. His transformation is unique to him because of its inextricable ties to his identity formation aka character arc. Nobody else in the Spider-Man universe can claim they’ve undergone the exact same ordeals within the same exact context as Miles has.
Yet, in the words of Miles himself, “Anyone can wear the mask. You could wear the mask. If you didn’t know that before, I hope you do now. ‘Cause I’m Spider-Man, and I’m not the only one. Not by a long shot.” In other words, we too can be a “Spider-Man” because we see ourselves in him. We find ourselves being inspired by his arc and that inspiration spurs us to discover and finish our own. That’s the power of character arcs. That’s why character arcs are important.
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Hey there, it’s Macy! If you’re new to macythoughts, I encourage you to check out my About page to learn more about who I am and what macythoughts is all about. Also feel free to connect with me via social media. I love meeting people and would always cherish a new friend.