The Character’s Arc: Terminology.

Hello everyone and welcome back to another #theorythursday. Last week I talked about the concept of the anti-hero so you should check that out if you haven’t already. 

Lately I’ve been thinking about how I use terminology and phrases that I am very familiar with such as ‘the character’s arc’ etc., very casually in my discussions on I use terms and phrases like this very often because I study literature in great detail and I have become really comfortable using terms that are often found in literary theory discussions but, I have been thinking about it and not everyone is so comfortable using literary terminology so I have decided to break down some of the things that I talk about the most, starting with the term ‘arc’. 

What is a character arc? What does this mean? 

In most narratives, the main protagonist will have a story arc. This means that they will develop throughout the story and by the end of the story, the character should be a changed person somehow compared to the character we met at the beginning of the story. 

This transformation and development is what I am referring to when I say something like “Will’s character arc is very satisfying to watch.” Since it is December, and this month’s #bookofthemonth is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, I will use the character Scrooge as an example. 

Scrooge has a very touching arc and I will of course elaborate more on this point in my Book Of The Month discussion at the end of December, but when we meet Scrooge he is a cold, cruel, selfish man who does not care about others and by the novel’s end, he is transformed, he repents, he is more empathetic, and he is determined to make up for his cruel behaviour in the past. 

Scrooge becomes a changed person because of his experiences in the novel which I won’t talk about anymore because I want to discuss it properly in my Book Of The Month discussion but he is a great character to turn to when trying to explain the term “arc” because he famously becomes a changed person after his experiences in the novel. 

If a character does not have an arc then they will not change at all throughout the novel. They will not grow, they will not evolve, and I think if a character does not have any kind of growth or development then they can be a bit one dimensional. The arc is very often the most important part of a character’s journey because if Scrooge for example did not have a change of heart, then the entire journey he went on in the novel would have been for nothing because the whole point of the arc is that the character is supposed to learn and evolve. 

I talk about Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean a lot, but that is because he is a great character in so many ways and his arc is equally as important because on his journey he learned about himself, and his father, he became more confident, he polished up his natural skills and became more trained, and he was able to stand up for himself and what he believed in at the end of the movie. If he did not stand up to Norrington at the end of the movie then audiences would wonder did he learn anything on his journey at sea at all? 

Scrooge’s change of heart, and Will’s moments of bravery are just two examples of characters who have really satisfying arcs that we can see so clearly because when we read or watch these stories, we root for these characters in these moments. I could list examples all day, but the point is that the arc, and the evolution of a character is what is satisfying. Without an arc, the character is dull.Without an arc, the journey will have been for nothing, and that is not a satisfying narrative. 

So the growth and evolution of a character is what I am referring to when I am talking about a character’s arc. Why is this important? 

It is important to understand terminology because if I am talking about how touching a character’s arc is and you don’t know what that means, then the discussion is pointless. If you don’t understand something then it is not enjoyable, and like every aspect of literary theory that I talk about, I think having an understanding of the term “arc” will allow you to understand literature on a deeper level and when you understand what an arc is, you will begin to see arcs in literature, you will be able to appreciate character arcs because you know what that means, and when you can spot a really satisfying arc, I think you will enjoy that story and like that character so much more. 

This has been Theory Thursday. I hope you enjoyed it. 

Who is your favourite character in any book/show/movie? I’d love to know. Happy Friday Eve. 

Kate xo.  

3 thoughts on “The Character’s Arc: Terminology.

    1. Thanks for sharing. It’s very cool that you’ve been reminded of one of your characters. I think Scrooge’s arc inspired many more stories and expressions like “don’t be such a Scrooge” etc. I’d argue he’s an iconic classic character in a piece of classic literature.


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