Change Is Key to Powerful Character Arcs

Create Powerful Character Arcs in 6 Steps

Create Powerful Character Arcs in 6 StepsThe secret to a memorable character isn’t so much creating a strong personality as it is creating a strong character arc. You can come up with the most entertaining, marvelous characters imaginable, but unless you also give them powerful character arcs, their stories will lack depth and power.

Anatomy of Story John TrubyCharacter arcs are fundamentally about change. You can chart a character’s arc through the progression of the story by comparing his personality, his behavior, his personal values, and his beliefs at the beginning and end of the book. How have they changed? In his fabulous book The Anatomy of Story, script consultant John Truby explains:

True character change involves a challenging and changing of basic beliefs, leading to new moral action by the hero.

Creating Character Arcs

6 Ingredients of Powerful Character Arcs

As I discuss in detail in my book Creating Character Arcs, crafting powerful character arcs requires several important ingredients:

1. Who Is Your Character in the Beginning?

Start out with a clear idea of who the character is at the beginning of the novel. What does he care about? What does he believe? How does he behave in certain situations?

2. What Flaws Must Your Character Overcome?

Usually (but not always) a main character’s arc will show him growing into a better person. That means he has to begin from a place of imperfection or incompleteness.

3. How Can You Show Your Character’s Mistakes?

Give the reader concrete examples throughout the book, but particularly early on, of the behavior and beliefs that the character needs to change.

4. What Tools Will Your Character Need in Order to Change?

Growth needs to be slow and steady throughout the middle of the book. Give the character the tools he needs to improve himself. This can come in the form of a mentor’s advice or even just the character’s actions creating a situation he recognizes as untenable.

5. How Can You Harmonize the Outer and Inner Climax?

Save the moment of revelation so it coincides with the emotional and physical climax. This isn’t always possible, but when you can bring the climaxes of the outer and inner journeys together, the result is explosive.

6. How Is Your Character a Different Person in the End?

Prove the character’s inner changes through his actions. It’s not enough to have him vow to be a better person; he has to prove it to the reader. Sometimes you can find a nice parallelism by reversing his earlier actions. If he was cruel to a bum on the street in an early scene, perhaps he could go out of his way to buy a meal for a bum at the end of the story.

The character’s outer journey—his progression through the story, one domino at a time—comprises the plot. It’s possible to write a story that consists entirely of the outer journey. But unless the character also makes an inner journey, the story will lack weight and resonance. We read because we want to vicariously experience exciting adventures, but the stories we most remember are those that also resonate with the deep, ever-changing human core we all share.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What are some of the most powerful character arcs you’ve read? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. KM – Great advice. I’ll try that. Thank you ;o)

  2. You’re always welcome. 🙂

  3. Thanks for the info. I’m working on a novel with six POV characters so six character arcs. Two of the characters are being secretive, so I hope to use some of your info to beat them into submission.

  4. Multiple characters present their own problems. It’s easy to be overwhelmed with all the details. But, often, when you can pull it off, you get a marvelous effect!

  5. this is really good stuff. It seems so intuitive, but sometimes it helps to see it spelled out, no? Thanks for all the great posts!

  6. Glad you think so. Personally, I always find it affirming to read about things I already more or less know on an intuitive level. Helps them solidify.


  1. […] Before we dive into looking at the ending (I promise we will get there), let’s talk about why starting from the ending can be beneficial. When we look at the ending of our story, we can see a few things. Obviously the ending but also our character and how he is different. Our character is probably not the same as he was at the beginning of our story before being called to his adventure and that in the writing world is character arc. […]

  2. […] K.M. Weiland – […]

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