What is a Character Arc?

What is a Character Arc?

A character arc is storytelling technique which focuses on the evolution of a character’s skill or understanding of one facet of him/herself.

As a storytelling technique, though, a character arc aims at being something thrilling. It isn’t just the character levelling up and getting a new capacity. It therefore has to follow some principles.

The principles of a character arc

To make something a bit interesting, it needs not being easy and straightforward.

This is a reason why a character arc will generally follow a structure like the one below:

  • It starts with the character wishing or having to do something.
  • The character will first struggle, but after failures and slow progression, he/she will end up with a first big success.
  • This success will make the character over-confident period of over confident, lading him/her to stop the effort.
  • Then a new obstacle will come which the character will fail to overcome.
  • This failure will lead the character into a period of doubt and/or despair. In the end though, the character will gain a understanding and enlightenment.
  • From now on, the character will be able to move on, having reached a new stage in his/her being.

This sequence is the base component of the 3 Acts Structure and of the Hero’s Journey. These are two of the most famous structures that can be used to build an interesting character arc.

Note also that a character arc can be either positive or negative. This is for instance Luke Skywalker becoming a Jedi, or (spoiler alert) his father becoming a leader of the Dark Side.

Using character arcs in your manga

A character arc can be used:

  • As the backbone of your main plot.
  • In parallel to the main plot.

A good example of this is Naruto for instance. The main plot is a sequence of character arcs that lead Naruto from being an outcast to becoming the hero of his village. In parallel to that we have the story of the other characters, who will evolve and gain a better understanding of themselves.

This is the reason why, when you create characters, it is interesting to leave them with some weaknesses and imperfections. These will give you ground to build your character arcs and add some life to your characters.

And when a character is too perfect, it can be a good idea add an arc where your character will have a downfall. This is for instance the story of Light Kagami in Death Note. He starts as a brilliant youth, who finally gets trap in his godlike role leading him to demise.

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