“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):
- 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 traits. Not character.
Round characters are those that are very detailed –they have depth. They are so detailed that they seem as if they were 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 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, and the city slicker.
CHARACTER Development is revealed in the choices the protagonist makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the 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.
Manning Notes – film, and story: “Film Criticism: Gardner-Webb University” (2015).
Donald Miller, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” (2009).
Donald Miller, “Into the Elements” DVD (2012)
Robert McKee, “Story” (2006)
Blake Snyder, “Save the Cat” (2005)
Barsam, R., & Monahan, D. (2012). Looking at Movies. New York: WW Norton
Boggs, J. M., & Jackson, K. (2008). The art of watching films: A guide to film analysis. Menlo Park, CA: Benjamin/Cummings Pub.7th edition
Carfagno, V. R., Higgins, M., & Rafael, C. M. (1972). Character Analysis. Retrieved from http://www.wilhelmreichtrust.org/character_analysis.pdf
Davis, D. R. (2008, February 28). How to write a character analysis. Retrieved June 29, 2016, from Teaching college English: The glory and the challenges, http://www.teachingcollegeenglish.com/2008/02/28/how-to-write-a-character-analysis-and-a-personnel-review/
Harcourt, H. M. What are the differences between an epic hero and a Romantic hero? Retrieved June 29, 2016, from Cliffnotes, https://www.cliffsnotes.com/cliffsnotes/subjects/literature/what-are-the-differences-between-an-epic-hero-and-a-romantic-hero
Hemingways code hero powerpoint presentation. (2002, November). Retrieved June 28, 2016, from http://www.xpowerpoint.com/Hemingways-Code-Hero–PPT.html
How to write a character analysis in 10 easy steps – eNotes.com. (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2016, from http://www.enotes.com/topics/how-write-character-analysis
Lopez, E. (n.d.). Responding to literature: Understanding character analysis | Scholastic.com. Retrieved June 28, 2016, from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/lesson-plan/responding-literature-understanding-character-analysis
Morris, A. (n.d.). Character analysis in literature: Definition & examples – video & lesson transcript | Study.com. Retrieved June 28, 2016, from http://study.com/academy/lesson/character-analysis-in-literature-definition-examples-quiz.html
Null, C. (2005). Five stars!: How to become a film critic, the world’s greatest job. San Francisco, CA: Sutro Press.
Purdue owl: Writing a literary analysis presentation. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/697/01/
Ray, R. (n.d.). What is an epic hero? | Characteristics of an epic hero. Retrieved June 28, 2016, from http://www.storyboardthat.com/articles/education/english/epic-hero
Stanley, R. H. (2011). The movie idiom: Film as a popular art form. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.
Stoller, B. M. (2003). Filmmaking for dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Pub.
Winokur, M., & Holsinger, B. W. (2001). The complete idiot’s guide to movies, flicks, and film. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books.