crafting stunning character arcs can you structure character

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 1: Can You Structure Characters?

What if there were a sure-fire secret to creating stunning character arcs? Would you be interested in discovering it? If you care about connecting with readers, grabbing hold of their emotions, and creating stories that will resonate with them on a level deeper than mere entertainment, then the answer has to be a resounding yes!

Creating Character Arcs

Creating Character Arcs (affiliate link)

But here’s the thing about character arcs: they’re way too easy to take for granted. On the surface, character arcs seem to boil down to nothing more than a simple three-step process:

1. The protagonist starts one way.

2. The protagonist learns some lessons throughout the story.

3. The protagonist ends in a (probably) better place.

That’s character arc in a nutshell. Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy. What’s to learn?

Turns out: a lot.

Before and After: How Stories Change Characters infographic


Emma (2009), BBC One; Casablanca (1942), Warner Bros. Pictures; Great Expectations (2012), Lionsgate; <i>It’s a Wonderful Life</i> (1947), Liberty Films; The Great Gatsby (2013), Warner Bros.

The Link Between Character Arcs and Story Structure

Too often, character and plot are viewed as separate entities—to the point that we often pit them against each other, trying to determine which is more important. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Plot and character are integral to one another. Remove either one from the equation, or even just try to approach them as if they were independent of one another, and you risk creating a story that may have awesome parts, but which will not be an awesome whole.

We often think of plot as being about structure, but our notions of character and character arc tend toward the more airy-fairy. Surely, character arc is something that must evolve organically from the characters themselves. Surely, we can’t structure our character arcs without making them formulaic or robbing them of life and spontaneity.

Surely, right?

Wrong, actually. When we say plot and character are integral to one another, what we’re really saying is that plot structure and character arc are integral to one another. In his classic Story, Robert McKee says:

We cannot ask which is more important, structure or character, because structure is character; character is structure. They’re the same thing, and therefore one cannot be more important than the other.

Structuring Your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story

Structuring Your Novel (affiliate link)

If you’re familiar with the basics of story structure (such as I talk about in my book Structuring Your Novel), then you can probably already see some of this structuring of character arc in action (click to a see a visual chart summarizing a story’s structure). The Major Plot Points all revolve around the character’s actions and reactions. As Michael Hauge says in Writing Screenplays That Sell:

The three acts of the [story] correspond to the three stages of the hero’s outer motivation. Each change in the hero’s motivation signals the arrival of the next act.

The character drives the plot, and the plot molds the character’s arc. They cannot work independently.

The Link Between Character Arcs and Theme

But it gets better! Not only does character arc directly influence story structure, it is also a direct influence on theme. In some respects, we might even go so far as to say that character arc=theme.

On even just a surface level, the discovery of the integrality of these three most important of all story elements is thrilling. None of them lives in a vacuum. They are all symbiotic.

This makes the creation of all three both a little more complicated and, at the same time, a whole lot easier. It’s more complicated for the obvious reason that we have three times as many story elements to keep track of at once. But it simplifies the overall process by rolling all three into a cohesive whole. Once we understand how plot, character, and theme all work together, chances are good that, if we get one of them right, we’ll get all three right.

The Three Basic Character Arcs

Although the variations of character arcs are as endless as the vagaries of human nature, we can narrow character arcs down to three basic types, with a few primary variations upon each:

The Change Arc

This is the most popular and often the most resonant character arc. The protagonist will start out with varying levels of personal unfulfillment and denial. Over the course of the story, he will be forced to challenge his beliefs about himself and the world, until finally he conquers his inner demons (and, as a result, probably his outer antagonists as well) and ends his arc having changed in a positive way.

The Flat Arc

Many popular stories feature characters who are already essentially complete unto themselves. They’re already heroes and don’t require any noticeable personal growth to gain the inner strength to defeat the external antagonists. These characters experience little to no change over the course of the story, making their arcs static or “flat.” Sometimes these characters are the catalysts for change in the story world around them, so that we find more prominent growth arcs in the minor characters.

The Negative Arc

Negative character arcs offer, arguably, more variations that either of the other arcs. However, at their most basic level, the Negative Arc is just a Change Arc flipped on its head. Instead of a character who grows out of his faults into a better person, the Negative Arc presents a character who ends up in a worse state than that in which he began the story.

Over the next month or so, we’re going to be exploring the structure of character arcs. Since the basic Change Arc is both the most complicated of the three arcs and the most integral to understanding the other two arcs, we’ll be spending most of the series discussing the intricacies of how to evolve your character in a positive way.

How should we create our characters’ arcs? Where do we find their foundation? How do the important moments in story structure affect (and are affected by) the important moments in character arc? In short, how does character arc work? And how can you crack the code and create a stunning character arc in every single story? Stop in next Sunday to find out!

Stay Tuned: Next week, we’ll talk about the Lie Your Character Believes.

Complete List of Subsequent Posts in This Series:

Part 2: The Lie Your Character Believes

Part 3: The Thing Your Character Wants vs. The Thing Your Character Needs

Part 4: Your Character’s Ghost

Part 5: The Characteristic Moment

Part 6: The Normal World

Part 7: The First Act

Part 8: The First Plot Point

Part 9: The First Half of the Second Act

Part 10: The Midpoint

Part 11: The Second Half of the Second Act

Part 12: The Third Plot Point

Part 13: The Third Act

Part 14: The Climax

Part 15: The Resolution

Tell me your opinion: Which of the three primary character arcs applies to your current protagonist?

creating stunning character arcs, pt. 1: can you structure character

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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. This should be a must-read series. My biggest struggle (before reading your book) was the relationship between character arc and story structure. Well, I struggled with both. But it never occurred to me that you could not seperate the major turning points of character arc and the major plot points of structure. Well, duh! Of course the two have to coincide. It’s just not something we’d instinctively recognize. Can’t wait for the series, KM.

    • Music theory is an accepted notion. So why not story theory? That’s essentially what we’re discovering when we analyze things like story structure and character arc. What are the principles that seem to apply across the board? What structure creates a strong story? What kind of character arc creates a strong story? If we can answer those questions, we can arm ourselves with a truckload of conscious story knowledge.

  2. Great to see you doing this. There’s so much “airy-fairy” belief about characters out there, it’s a pleasure to see someone put “character” and “structure” in the same sentence again. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

    I wonder, how much are you going to be saying about the “flat arc”? It seems like the exception that redefines the rule; the classic way to make it work is the detective who doesn’t change, when the story is an exploration of the suspects around him, so there’s still plenty of human arc. Or an episodic action hero, though there the human changes are much smaller and the point is each barely-surprising discovery that yes, he’s tougher than this guy too.

    All in all, character planning by our Structure Mastersmith? It’s about time!

  3. This is an especially good post and I’m excited to see more about this subject. One of the things I love most about stories is when I catch new things when I reread/rewatch one and catch something new in the story like a subtle foreshadow in the story. I think the same must apply to characters as well. When you think about it, most character arcs themselves aren’t that original from a conception standpoint (boring Bob becomes a hero, selfish Sally becomes selfless, etc.) but when the growth itself is organic and hidden below the surface through subtle symbolism, change in character’s physical appearance, lines of dialogue and other things, the character truly becomes real.

    • The human journey is all about change – some of that change is growth, some of its decay. But, ultimately, the general details of either remain much the same from person to person. So it’s really not surprising that the arcs are also similar from story to story.

  4. In my standalone, I definitely have a change arc going on for both my protags. They’re both in a state of disappointment relationally when they meet each other, and by the time of the end of the book, they’re more fulfilled. Their progression only has a minor impact on the overall plot of the story.

    With my trilogy, I have the allowance to have my character arc span three books. A lot more space to have nuanced changes for both my MCs, and depending on the reader’s perspective, the arc could be a positive or a negative one. For the characters, it will be positive in many ways, but negative, too.

    • Few changes are entirely positive or negative. For everything a person gains, he usually has to give up something as well. That’s an important angle to keep in mind. Maintaining shades of gray in an arc will allow it be all the more realistic and poignant.

  5. Good article, KM. It took me years to realise that when people said “more character development” they actually meant more story, and vice versa!

    One thing to add: the flat arc you mention usually comes with one of two genres – adventure and satire.

    In an adventure story, you don’t want the protagonist to fight his flaws. He’s too busy fighting the bad guys and saving the world. (See Indiana Jones, for example).

    In a satire, everyone is stuck in their own flaws, so they’re never going to grow. That’s why it’s a satire.

    I like your point about the negative arc and look forward to seeing how you develop this. And do you think there’s also an S-shaped arc? One that starts going one way and then changes direction?

    • In some respect, most change arcs are S-shaped. We’ll often start out with a character who thinks he wants to grow into one thing, only to later realize that it’s something else entirely that will bring him fulfillment and wholeness as a person.

  6. Steve Mathisen says

    I see the foundation of a new book here. It is excellent analysis boiled down to useful information that anyone can use.

  7. This sounds good. Looking forward to reading the series.

  8. Definitely a positive arc. It’s a realisation through external motivation that she had the power all along and everyone else was weak and hiding it

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I have to admit: positive change arcs are my favorite. I’ve used them in every story I’ve written.

  9. My current protagonist is in the change arc. No doubt about it. I like writing stories where the protagonist is already in the mood for learning but is still somewhat surprised about what he or she experiences and learns.

  10. As always, the way you put things is so practical and accessible and just plain helpful. Great post!

    Sarah Allen
    (From Sarah, With Joy)

  11. Great article, I’m working on the change arc but still figuring out where my protagonist starts out to see how she changes.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If we know either how the characters starts out or where we want him to end up, we’re usually halfway to figuring out the basics of the change arc.

  12. I’m really looking forward to this series. In the novel I’m working on now, I use the change arc.

    With regard to negative arcs, I find the reader is left disappointed and depressed – at least I do. Nothing is more frustrating for me than reading a novel or watching a movie only to have it end without some kind of change. It’s depressing most of the time. I’ve never come across a story that uses a negative arc and makes you feel good at the end.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Negative arcs are tough to pull off in a satisfying way, but when they’re done well, they can create some of the most moving and memorable of stories. Just think of Gone With the Wind and Wuthering Heights.

  13. George McNeese says

    My protagonist falls in the flat arc, but I’m thinking about changing to a negative. He’s a cynic, but he does have moments of change. Ultimately, it leads him to be more cynical and downright defiant of authority. We’ll see as my story progresses.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      One of the most interesting arcs to pursue is a negative arc in a positive plot: i.e., the plot ends with the character victorious, but his journey to that victory leaves him a more embittered or cynical person than one he started out as. It’s classic anti-hero territory.

  14. Katie–
    As usual, you have brought clarity to something complex. By presenting the discussion in terms of three arc patterns, you frame the issue in a useful way.
    Applying it to my own work, I see a lot of flat character arcs. Instead of interest developing from change, negative or positive, it comes (I hope) from how a character’s essential self shapes his/her actions, and how that self is perceived by others. In my latest mystery, The Anything Goes Girl, the principal antagonist is confident of what matters most–success, power, etc. She has had to fight her way to the top. But for this very reason, she is unable to see how someone else with a very different background (my central character) does not share these values. Both characters remain the same, but only one reads the other accurately.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      More often than not, antagonists demonstrate flat arcs: they represent an inability to change or adapt (and therefore inevitable failure), while the protagonist is able to grow into the person he needs to be to survive and succeed. That said, it is often interesting when we throw a growth arc into the antagonist’s story – whether positive or, more likely, negative.

  15. Judy Swofford says

    Your post is my life (my story) saver. I had never heard of the negative arc. There is no way my protagonist will change for the better. I don’t want her to. But, everything I’ve read refers to the “Hero” overcomes all obstacles and rides off into the sunset. She doesn’t even have heroic-like scenes like Scarlet O’Hara saving Tara.

    I’m three-quarters the way through the first draft and I’ve come to a standstill. I’ve pondered going back and make modifications in her character, which would entail changing how the other characters are effected/affected. At this point in the story she is spiraling downward.

    Now I can learn what to do with my character that won’t involve turning her into a Goody Two Shoes. I can hardly wait.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Many, many stories offer negative arcs, including Scarlett O’Hara’s. Wuthering Heights is another good example.

  16. Do you think you’ll ever visit 4-act structures? Frankly, I have zero affinity for 3-act and regularly use similar methods to the Japanese structure of running a couple of acts of slow growth along one track, highlight a serious contrast in the third act, and then resolve them with revelation/bringing them together in the fourth. I haven’t consciously worked that particular structure, but I use its methods, sometimes flipping out the contrast acts, and I’d love to know if you had thoughts on how character arc intertwines with that.

    • Linda

      I’m interested. How does this differ from having a strong mid-point in the middle of act two, followed by a distinct downhill journey? Do you have any examples of the Japanese films which do this?


    • Actually, what I teach as the “three-act structure” is essentially a four-act structure, since the Second Act is split in two definitive halves by the Midpoint. For your purposes, if you read “First Half of the Second Act” as “Second Act” and “Second Half of the Second Act” as “Third Act” and “Third Act” as “Fourth Act,” I think you’ll find we’re essentially on the same page.

      • No, the turning points are all different. I’m not talking Hollywood 4-act at all, but the dramatic 4-act used by the kishotenketsu, etc.

        If you’re only familiar with 3-act, then I guess that answers my question. You won’t be addressing another structure in the future. I am very interested though in how character arc would be structured with other structures I’m more likely to use.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          From what I’m seeing here, there are still a lot of interesting similarities and applicability between the two. However, you’re right that I don’t deal much with a conflict-less plot. Perhaps in a future series!

          • That’s part of why I said I really don’t do the structure exactly, just its techniques. I use conflict, but I treat it as just one more little tool in the box vs. the engine-driver of the story.

            I just don’t structure according to the 3-act. Even when I analyze my good stories afterward and try to see how they fit 3-act, I can’t make it quite match. When I look at my favorite books, some use it and many don’t. P.C. Wrede addressed the plethora of structures out there, and it covered pretty much all the stories I liked and all the ones I write myself, so that link may be more helpful than the Japanese one directly as she doesn’t throw out conflict at all.

            If you do ever want to do a piece on the similarity and applicability, I’d love to read it. I’m not sure if it’s the language of 3-act that makes it not work for me or that I just don’t care for it the way I don’t care for writing sonnets but enjoy reading them. (Poetry provided my foundation of understanding structure, I admit.)

            I’d love to see how it interrelates to other structures if you ever want to write about that.

  17. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    @Liana: I find that the flexibility of structure is all in how you approach it. Some people seem to find the basic concept of the three (or four or nine or whatever you want to call it) structure inhibiting, which I always find interesting, since I see it as boundlessly flexible. It’s that structured flexibility that makes it so interesting.

    • I don’t find it inhibiting. I adore structure. I just can’t get anything I’m interested in writing to scan to the Hollywood/Save-the-Cat 3-act structure. :shrugs: There are other structures, so I don’t fret but I’m still fascinated by structure and now am wondering how to match character arc to the structures I am using.

      I write more form poetry than free verse, to put it mildly, but there are still certain forms I just don’t have the affinity/desire to write in. So not at all inhibiting. It just doesn’t usually work for me as a writer.

      • This is very interesting – thank you Liana for putting me onto some fascinating discussions of structure. I both use and teach three-act structure and other structures, but I hadn’t heard of kishotenketsu.

        What I do see, especially in films, is that even those which are clearly not in three acts, still have an embryonic if shadowy hint of three acts lurking beneath.

        For example, Laurence of Arabia (seven acts) and Goodfellas (episodic) still have what could almost pass for turning points where you’d expect them to be if they were in three acts.

        Coming back to Katie’s original post, does this affect the character arc?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          The “plot points” of the character arc are more fluid than those of the plot, which gives us greater leeway for scooching them around within whatever structure we’re using. But the very fact that we find that “shadowy” three-act structure underlying almost every type of story gives us a basic guideline for applying character arc across the board.

  18. Hi
    Great post, thanks, and I’m really looking forward to the rest in the series.
    As your three approaches suggests, I think it’s key to your story to have a clear idea of where your protagonist ends up, emotionally and mentally.
    I don’t plan a great deal, enjoying pantsing far too much. I spend a lot of time on the edit and find that works for me, but I’ll always know the character arc I want my protagonist to go through and where they finish, either before I start writing, or not long after I begin.
    In my current WIP, the arc for the first two books is definitely negative, as guilt piles on guilt and it all spirals down. I’m mid-way through the final part where he’ll finally find, if not a happy smiley place, at least some peace with his past, while achieving the external goal that has controlled his life for so long.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Even if writers prefer not to do much up-front planning, it’s always worthwhile to keep asking, “How does the plot push my character’s personal buttons? How can his reactions to those personal buttons influence the plot?”

  19. This website is so helpful, I stumbled across it, I’ve read a few posts, and wow! Everything here I can relate to, it’s easy to understand, and I can already it it influencing my writing a whole lot.

    I guess I’m just trying to say, thanks for writing and posting it, honestly. =)

  20. I thoroughly enjoyed your post! Thank you for the insight. I never had thought that character arc equals theme before. I’m chewing the new ideas in my mind now.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s a thrilling concept, isn’t it? It blew my mind when I first figured out too.

  21. Great article. Bookemarked! On a side note… “Airy-Fairy”…. “Timey-whimey”… does someone watch Doctor Who–or was that just off the cuff? lol

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hah! Just off the cuff. I recently started watching Dr. Who, but I’ve been saying “airy fairy” for years, so he doesn’t get credit.

  22. I think character arcs are one of the most integral parts of any story, but they are difficult to pull off. To me, they present more of a challenge. Especially when the book is largely character-driven (such as mine), you have to make sure that everything ties back to your characters, and show how your characters react/are affected by their world.

    My most recent YA novel had a positive character. Arman pulled out of his mental isolation and reached a more fulfilling lifestyle. In the sequel, however, I’m focusing on the negative character arc of the FMC. I think that will be an even greater challenge than the first book, and as a result, have more impact on the readers.

    I prefer character arc stories. I’m not a fan of stories where the MCs are just in the world and things are happening. In my eyes, to truly resonate with the readers, the characters have to be directly affected. (Strictly speaking from the YA vantage point.)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Every type of arc has its purpose, and I appreciate stories that feature all of them. But I’m inclined toward the positive change arcs myself. I like to see characters being transformed by their trials in ultimately positive (if perhaps bittersweet) ways.

  23. I am currently doing a multi-level arc. The primary arc is that of a downfall arc, yet the arc in question produces a positive change within my character.

    The bittersweet arc if you will.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The negative arc has arguably more variations than any of the other arcs and one of them is what you’re calling the bittersweet arc, in which the character doesn’t get the Truth until the very end of the book, when it’s too late to positively affect his fate in the plot. Scarlet O’Hara is a good example.

  24. Finally started this series. (late as usual)
    These days, I am suffering between two of my characters and their arcs. Hopefully this series will shed some light on them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Don’t forget that both characters can have arcs within the same book.

      • Aye aye sir! I am worried about who will be the protag though, both are super cool 🙁

        • Hi Kinza,

          Don’t worry! If you want to choose between them, choose the protagonist who makes the biggest change across the story (ie: has the largest arc).

          Or if you don’t want to choose between them, you can have a dual protagonist story.

          That’s a little trickier, because you have to ensure that the story balances equally between the two of them. You don’t want one to become more interesting than the other. But it sounds like you already find them equally strong.

          And of course each only has half the space to occupy so you must make sure each has twice the impact. But many books do it very well.

          Have fun with it!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          No such thing as too much coolness! It’s possible they might need to share the limelight equally.

          • @Charles Thanks for the advice. I gave it some thought and find out, that both are already having equal limelight in my outlining and project development stages. So maybe, by a little thorough working on my side, I will make them both my protagonist.

            @ KM, after all they are saving the world. It is better than one person alone, fighting the whole universe 😉

  25. “Too often, character and plot are viewed as separate entities—to the point that we often pit them against each other, trying to determine which is more important. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Plot and character are integral to one other.”

    Yes, yes, and more yes! Plot and character go hand in hand. I’m reminded of this wonderful book on crafting characters I read called “The Art of Character” by David Corbett, in which character development is dependent on what question the story raises, i.e. “Can I [the protagonist] get what I want?”, “Who am I?” or “What do I have to change about myself to get what I want?”

    It’s an awesome book, and it’s helped me grasp character so well, and I can’t wait to read more of your posts to help me grasp characters even better 🙂

  26. Nice series. Trying to slowly digest the character arc subject matter.
    Enjoyed the symbiotic relationship between character, plot and theme. The Major plot points consisting of the MC’s reactions and actions was also a plus.


  27. Thank you for the information. It’s very useful. I like the idea of character arcs when boiled down in this way, because, when used correctly, they are seeds planted in a plot and ready to grow.

    You graphic is flip-flopped, though. The picture accompanying The Great Gatsby and Great Expectations? Switched.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Wow. You’re right! You’re the first person to catch that. Thanks for pointing that out. I’ll have to correct that in the workbook as well.

      • No problem. Thank you for a wonderful website to study and browse through!

        • David, I don’t know where, but somewhere, a college maybe, an instructor is repeating your line. “They are seeds planted in a plot and ready to grow.” The instructor smile slightly out of the corner of their mouth, not claiming it to be his, but not denying it either. And the students, ooh and ahh.

  28. After reading your excellent series, I’m still not sure what character arc my protagonist has. She isn’t in denial about a Lie at the beginning, so by your definition it’s not a growth arc; but she gets abducted and tortured (in a way – it’s fantasy, so the “torture” is done by magic) and when she is able to escape, she’s definitely not in the same happy place as in the beginning. For the rest of the story, she is seeking a way to undo what has been done to her, finds out that it’s impossible and then needs to find a way to integrate these changes to become a functional person again. If you strip away the fantasy trappings, this could be the character arc of a crime victim or someone with an incurable illness, and I wonder what kind of arc these stories have. My character isn’t very different in the end, personality-wise, she’s simply too stubborn to give up. But all the ups and downs in between make me doubt that she has a flat arc.

  29. I’d love to see a book on character arcs! Nice job!

    I have a question about several arcs in one story.

    If the protagonist is following a flat arc, it seems obvious someone else have to follow another arc. I assume a positive one.

    Or can a flat arc protagonist have an antagonist following a negative arc? (E.g. president Snow in The Hunger Games, following what I’d guess would be a Fall arc? He does after all fall…)

    However when it comes to positive and negative arcs I feel in most cases you have a positive/negative protagonist, and not so much other development.

    Or could you view people close to the positive/negative protagonist as following a flat arc? (Although that would have to be without the testing? Unless you view the negative protagonist’s downfall a test?)

    Or can you have several different arcs in the same story?

    And if so, do you have examples of books/movies where this happens?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Your instincts are spot on. I’ll direct you to this post, since it answers most of your questions: “Should All Your Minor Characters Have Arcs?

      And, as a matter of fact, I have the first printed version of the rough draft of a character arcs book sitting in front of me right now!

      • Thank you!

        Ummm I clearly remember reading that article a while ago… Ahem! *reading again* I’m back, it answers my question very clearly (when you really read it) Hah!

        I’m thrilled to hear about the book! Good luck.

      • K.M. , When you gather your notes on different character arcs and present them to other authors and there is an overall agreement on them and their function would they then be considered ‘arcs of the covenant?’ These questions haunt me at night.

  30. Hugo T. Williams says

    Great information! Thank you for making the character arc lessons and outlines available!

    Just an FYI, I think two of the photos on your character arc page are transposed (The Great Gatsby and Great Expectations.)

    All the best,


  31. The images for The Great Gatsby and Great Expectations should be switched so they’re correctly placed by the right titles. It drives me crazy each time I return to this article and notice it all over again, haha.

  32. You have some nice info graphics for how to structure a story, but I’m having trouble applying these to that checklist. Do you have any graphics for structure that include the character arcs?

  33. K.M. great series as always! Could this “Creating Stunning Character Arcs” series fall in line with developing the antagonist also? I read a post that you suggest starting with the antagonist.

  34. Is there much or any difference between the contents of these articles and the Creating Character Arcs book?

  35. Mustafa Awad says

    Hey – just discovered this website and wanted to say how grateful I am to the author/creator for the exceptionally useful tips on this page. I’m working on my first novel and cannot tell you how helpful this has all been. Thanks. Mustafa

  36. Greetings KM,
    At first I wasn’t sure if my protag needed THE LIE. But it didn’t make sense to have a well structured plot propelled by a nebulous character. THE LIE gave my character direction as well as depth. I like handling writing as a craft, deciding which tools and parts to use and pulling them all together.

  37. Hi, I was wondering whether the lie needs to theme specific?
    For example, in the script that I am rewriting my protagonist believes that his friend was killed for a random reason by a random group of people.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, the Lie will define your story’s theme and should be what every aspect of the story (plot, character, theme) revolves around.

  38. “The character drives the plot, and the plot molds the character’s arc. They cannot work independently.”

    My drafts are proof of this statement. The plot is dictated by what my characters do. (This is the reason why planning doesn’t work well for me.)

  39. I want to thank you for this amazing resource.

    I did a bit of a video comparing two characters from two different video games using this, showing how one was a definite change arc (Arthur Morgan from RDR2, going from a common criminal to confronting his own mortality and turning a new leaf after contracting TB), and Commander Shepard, from Mass Effect, static arc, where people were growing more than they were.

    My story will definitely be a change arc as well, I always planned it out like that, but your page will be a great resource to get me to focus on some major points and think about how things are going to go.


  1. […] characters can sometimes seem as mysterious as alchemy. K.M. Weiland suggests that we can structure character just like plot–that they are, in fact, one and the same. Moody Writing tells us how to lift […]

  2. […] Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 1: Can You Structure Characters? […]

  3. […] Story Minds – Writing Articles on Character KM Weiland – Character KM Weiland – Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 1: Can You Structure Characters? Writer’s Digest – How To Craft Compelling Characters  Listology – Character […]

  4. WUW: | says:

    […] I highly recommend it. In the last section, when I talked about outlining my characters, I got the idea from this site, as well all that about the Hook, Inciting Event, etc. (That’s awesome because […]

  5. […] struggle that the MC is going through.  If there isn’t one of these in the book, then that’s something that might need changing.  But too often, you just see the character struggling with one particular thing throughout the […]

  6. […] Story Minds – Writing Articles on Character KM Weiland – Character KM Weiland – Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 1: Can You Structure Characters? Writer’s Digest – How To Craft Compelling Characters  Listology – Character […]

  7. […] written previously about character arcs. Well, I felt the need to review my familiarity with my characters’ arcs as I began to think […]

  8. […] Structuring Characters, K.M Weiland […]

  9. […] different ways to accomplish this character arc in your story.  K.M. Weiland, in particular, has a fantastic fifteen-part series on her blog that provides one great way of doing it.  If you’re looking for a shorter look at it, […]

  10. […] Creating a Stunning Character Arc, Part 1: Can You Structure Characters? — This is a long, pretty in depth article with links to an entire series of pretty long, in […]

  11. […] Create Stunning Character Arcs  I started here, and I’m glad I did. A detailed series that does exactly as it promises: teaches you how to use character arc as the structural foundation of your novel. The questions at the end are invaluable. […]

  12. […] K.M. Weiland’s series is a good resource for this and I’ve found it extremely helpful as I write this (hopefully last!) draft.  Don’t just have a hero doing hero-y things and ending as a hero.  Let him grow from weak to strong.  Show her development.  Challenge him.  Bring him or her to the depths of despair, and pour more despair on top, before letting them rise from the ashes. […]

  13. […] thematic question, deep three dimensional characters, with a change arc. Authorial responsibilities are just as much in comedy as in any genre, in fact more. You even have […]

  14. […] Character Arcs 1 | Helping Writers Become Authors […]

  15. […] Struktur sind: Nicht vergessen, dass es nicht nur die dramatische Handlung gibt, sondern auch die innere Handlung der Figuren. Die Wendepunkte der dramatischen Handlung sollten zumindest gut auf die persönlichen Wendepunkte […]

  16. […] A story can still be good without this element, but it’s my opinion, and the opinion of many tenured authors, that it is vital to a great story. And isn’t that the point of this creative field, to […]

  17. […] Die innere Handlung der Figuren gut auf die Wendepunkte der dramatischen Handlung anpassen. Dadurch erscheint der Einsatz in dem […]

  18. […] positive change arc (in which the character evolves into a better or more whole person over the course of the […]

  19. […] 2. Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 1: Can You Structure Characters? by K.M. Weiland […]

  20. […] Can you Structure Characters? (First of all, this blog is one of my favorite writing blogs to read. Here she talks about the relationship between Character Arcs, plot, and themes and then talks about three types of arcs.) […]

  21. […] As K.M. Weiland advises, when you have a flat character arc, you can create variation and interest by giving your secondary characters their own developments. This creates contrast and stops your fictional world from feeling populated by cardboard cutout stock characters. […]

  22. […] Character Arcs 1 | Helping Writers Become Authors […]

  23. […] suggest you check out K.M. Welland’s Creating Stunning Character Arcs series starting here. It really helped me figure out my character and how she needed to grow, as well as figuring out […]

  24. […] what kind of emotional growth your character is going to experience, as an aid to plotting. This series of blog posts by author K.M. Weiland includes a set of exercises to help craft character arcs to drive your […]

  25. […] Creating character arcs. […]

  26. […] [16] Weiland, KM. “Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 1: Can You Structure Characters?” Helping Writers Become February 9, 2014.; […]

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