What It Takes to Create a Positive Character Arc
When it comes to writing, one of the most important things to get right is the character arc. This is especially true for positive character arcs, which can make or break a story.
In this article, we will discuss how to create a positive character arc and why it is so important. We will also provide the pieces to create an emotionally satisfying story with a positive ending and examples!
What is a positive character arc?
A positive character arc is the journey of a character who starts out in a negative or difficult situation and goes on to overcome challenges and grow as a person. This type of arc usually results in the character becoming a better person by the end of the story.
Why is a positive character arc important?
A positive character arc is important because it provides hope for the reader. It gives them someone to root for and makes them feel good when they see the character succeed.
Additionally, positive character arcs are satisfying because they show that growth is possible, even in the face of adversity. A positive change arc can be a great vessel for the audience to learn an important life lesson while also being entertained.
How is a positive character arc different from a negative character arc or flat character arc?
A character's arc can be positive, negative, or neutral. There are main three types of character arcs: positive arcs, negative arcs, and flat arcs.
Positive arcs are when a character changes for the better over the course of the story. They might start out as being selfish and by the end, they’ve learned to care for others. Or, they could be scared and lacking in confidence at the beginning, but by the end, they are brave and have overcome their fears.
Negative arcs are just the opposite. These characters become worse over time. They could start out as being kind and good, but eventually, turn into villains or monsters.
A flat arc doesn’t involve any real change at all. The character remains mostly static throughout the story but affects change in the characters around them. Flat character arcs are more for characters that represent an ideal.
How do you write a positive character arc?
A protagonist's character arc is essentially the story's theme or moral. In a positive arc, it is the life lesson you are trying to teach the audience. By experiencing the same events as the main character, your audience experiences learning this lesson with them.
That's what's so great about good stories: they're efficient ways of teaching people life lessons without having to experience the trials themselves in order to learn them.
The "Lie the Character Believes"
One of the most important aspects of creating a positive character arc is understanding the "lie the character believes."
The Lie is the character's flawed viewpoint about themselves or the world. It's the thing that their positive arc is supposed to cure by teaching them the Truth of the world.
Their Lie can stem from something traumatic that happened in their past or it can be something that's a constant presence in the world that they live in at the start of the story. It can also be a naive belief held on from childhood and their positive arc is a coming of age tale.
Whatever the character's Lie is, the character is not aware of it at the beginning of the story. As they start their journey, the Lie starts to reveal itself to them and they slowly move away from it toward the Truth.
The "Thing the Character Wants"
The "Thing the Character Wants" is the character's motivation and what propels them throughout the story. It's the plot goal they are trying to achieve.
This Want is something that the character thinks that they need, but it really isn't. The thing that they want is actually something that can perpetuate their Lie. Usually, the thing that they want is something physical or materialistic, but it's not something that is going to make them grow and become a better person.
The "Thing the Character Needs"
"Your protagonist’s inner conflict is all about this silent war between his Want and his Need." –K.M. Weiland, Creating Character Arcs
The "Thing the Character Needs" is the Truth. It's the cure to their Lie. It's not the thing they've been striving for the entire story, it's the thing that actually makes them grow as a person.
The Truth is almost always a revelation, not something that is tangible. It's the life lesson they needed to learn and it takes going on their journey to realize it. This revelation usually happens right before the climax of the story or during it.
The Climax is the moment where your character uses their Truth to overcome their greatest obstacle/antagonist of the story.
They can only conquer their greatest foe when they've finished their character arc. Their Truth gives them the strength to finally resolve the conflict of the story.
The climax is what really hits the life lesson home to the audience with a dramatic plot point they'll remember. The audience goes away with the lesson learned stuck in their heads.
Examples of positive character arcs
Star Wars: A New Hope
Character: Luke Skywalker
The Lie: Relying on technology to achieve power.
The Want: To fight the tyrannical Galactic Empire.
The Need (Truth): To rely on his own instincts and trust in something greater than himself.
The Climax: Luke puts away his targeting computer (his Lie) and relies on the Force (his Truth) in order to finally sink the shot to blow up the Death Star.
Spider-man: No Way Home
Character: Peter Parker/Spider-man
The Lie: He can be both Spider-man and have a normal life.
The Want: To get his life back to normal no matter the cost.
The Need (Truth): Realize that he needs to take responsibility for his life and accept his burden of power to help those in need.
The Climax: When his world is threatened by enemies entering from the multi-verse, Peter realizes his life can never go back to normal (his Lie) and asks Dr. Strange to wipe everyone's memories of Peter Parker thus sacrificing his normal life for those he loves (his Truth).
The Lie: Thinks he is bound by the laws of the Matrix, both the physical and mental enslavement of the machines and the world they created.
The Want: To survive and escape the Matrix.
The Need (Truth): In the world of the Matrix, Neo can achieve what was conceived as impossible by believing himself to do it.
The Climax: When Neo rises from death, he now believes he is not bound to the laws of the real world inside of the Matrix (his Lie) and realizes the power he has to achieve the impossible (his Truth). With this newfound belief, he is able to defeat Agent Smith.
The positive character arc is all about growth. The character starts off ignorant of their problem, but as they go on their journey, they slowly realize the error of their ways and by the end of the story, have overcome it.
This type of arc is important because it teaches an audience a valuable lesson that they can take away and apply to their own lives. It's also just really satisfying to see a character grow and change for the better.