“What makes a plot truly memorable is not all the action, but what the action does to the character. We respond to a character who changes, who endures the conflict of the story only to emerge a different person at the end.” – James Scott Bell
What is a Character Arc?
- Character (Protagonist) faces a story question.
- Character engages into a conflict or crisis (forces of antagonism).
- Character makes choices.
- Characters usually change by the end of a story (change isn’t always a good thing).
- Characters can change…
…From Hero to villain.
…From lonely to in love.
…From doubting to believing.
…From resentful to grateful.
…From cowardly to courageous.
…From selfless to selfish.
Character development vs. Characterization
Characterization is the human qualities that we ascribe to a person: age, intelligence, sex, mannerisms, speech patterns, etc. Are they rich; middle class, or poor? Good natured or grim? Are they greedy or generous; brave or a coward? What do they do for a living; how educated are they? Are they nervous, confident, religious, pretty, ugly, fat, thin, morally good, or corrupt? These traits make each one of us unique, but they are simply that – they are descriptions.
Round characters are those that are very detailed –they have depth. They are so detailed that they seem as if they are real.
A flat character is distinguished by its lack of detail. Though the description of a flat character may be detailed, the character itself barely has any life or energy and usually just follows one characteristic.
Formula-characters – A number of stereotypical, or “stock” characters have developed throughout the history of drama. Some of these characters include the country bumpkin, the con artist, the sleazy politician, and the city slicker.
CHARACTER Development is revealed in the choices the protagonist makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the opportunity for impact of the change in the protagonist. This allows us to get a truer picture of the character’s essential nature. When we see change in a character, we see development.
Good Characters vs. Bad Characters (from a written standpoint)
- A Good Character should be visually interesting. Think about characters that have a funny tick, are obsessive, or unique. Screenwriter Blake Snyder says characters should be visually memorable; for example – add a limp and an eye patch to a character; give them a pet monkey; have them wear pajamas everywhere, etc.
- A Good Character should be compelling and fueled by taking action. What are the hidden dreams or goals of the character? Why do audiences care about the character? This is what compels the audience to be drawn into a character’s life.
Bad Characters – These characters visually (or their dialogue) are not written in a believable way. Sometimes this is due to lack of research by the writer, or just bad writing. Disclaimer: There are exceptions to this rule especially in certain forms of comedy, and stock characters.
What’s so Dynamic About Characters anyway?
A dynamic character is one who changes significantly during the course of the story.
In contrast, a static character does not undergo significant change. Whether round or flat, their personalities remain essentially stable throughout the course of the story. This is commonly done with secondary characters in order to let them serve as thematic or plot elements.
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