Module 2: A Matter of Character

“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?

  1. Character (Protagonist) faces a story question.-Harvey-Dent-Two-Face-The-Dark-Knight-Screencaps-harvey-dent-13409511-1266-536
  2. Character engages into a conflict or crisis (forces of antagonism).
  3. Character makes choices (good or bad).
  4. Characters usually change by the end of a story (change isn’t always a good thing).
  5. Characters can change…

…From Hero to villain.

…From lonely to in love.

…From doubter to believer.Unknown

…From resentful to grateful.

…From cowardly to courageous.

…From selfless to selfish.

What is the difference between Character development and Characterization?

Characterization is the human qualities (and traits) that we ascribe to a person: age, intelligence, gender, mannerisms, speech patterns, etc. What are they like?

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; what is their education level? 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, descriptions ... characterizations.

-d10d3f64-6786-410d-9ea5-da8e79cb6cedRound characters are those that are very detailed –they have depth. They are so detailed that they seem as if they are real, as if we know them, or known someone like them.

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, the brilliant nerd, the dumb jock, the prom queen, the party animal, 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 on 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 

  1. A Good Character should be visually interesting. Think about characters that have a funny tick, are obsessive, or unique. Screenwriter Blake Snyder says characters f7087317bcd137d36c47381d00d97532should be visually memorable; for example – screenwriters should add a limp and an eye patch to a character; give them a pet monkey; have them wear pajamas everywhere; have them carry a basketball with them everywhere, etc. Think about how the characters you see on screen are “visually different” from each other.
  2. 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 within their spoken dialogue) are not written in a believable way. Sometimes this is due to lack of research by the writer, or just bad writing. Or it could be bad casting or directing. Disclaimer: There are exceptions to this rule especially in certain forms of comedy, and stock characters.

What’s so Dynamic About Characters anyway?

2309065-t2sarahconnor2A dynamic character is one who changes significantly during the course of the story. Change is incredibly important (in most stories) for the protagonist.

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” (2020).

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

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,

Harcourt, H. M. What are the differences between an epic hero and a Romantic hero? Retrieved June 29, 2016, from Cliffnotes,

Hemingways code hero powerpoint presentation. (2002, November). Retrieved June 28, 2016, from–PPT.html

How to write a character analysis in 10 easy steps – (n.d.). Retrieved June 28, 2016, from

Lopez, E. (n.d.). Responding to literature: Understanding character analysis | Retrieved June 28, 2016, from

Morris, A. (n.d.). Character analysis in literature: Definition & examples – video & lesson transcript | Retrieved June 28, 2016, from

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

Ray, R. (n.d.). What is an epic hero? | Characteristics of an epic hero. Retrieved June 28, 2016, from

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.


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