Character arc

Character arc

A character arc is the status of the character as it unfolds throughout the story, the storyline or series of episodes. Characters begin the story with a certain viewpoint and, through events in the story, that viewpoint changes. Some examples include:

  • In Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman’s character begins as a misogynistic chauvinist but when he is forced to play the part of a woman, he also experiences a change in how he views women and becomes a different character by the end.
  • In Empire of the Sun, Jim begins as a carefree young boy. After the Japanese take over Shanghai and he is separated from his family, he is forced to suffer trauma because of the war.
  • In The Godfather, Michael Corleone at first does not want to have anything to do with his father’s crime business. When his father is attacked and barely survives, Michael begins a war of retribution on those responsible. This effectively and ironically sets him down the path to becoming the head of his father's crime syndicate. The Godfather Part II chronicles Michael's effective fall from grace as a result of becoming a powerful crime lord.
  • In Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle degenerates from a somewhat disturbed, highly disorganized Vietnam veteran into an extremely highly-organized, full-blown psychotic.

Unlike a story arc, the character arc is not confined within the limits of one story. The character arc may extend over to the next story, a sequel, or another episode. In episodic TV series, the character arc has become a hook that writers often use to ensure viewers continue watching.

  • In the popular American television show "Lost", Shannon Rutherford is a damaged rich-girl who regularly cons money out of her stepbrother, Boone Carlyle, after his mother steals her inheritance. After the crash of Oceanic Flight 815, her knowledge of French is key in translating Danielle Rousseau's distress call. But her attitude following this event is generally one of being rude to the other survivors and unhelpful, as she believes rescue to be imminent. When, after a month, it looks like rescue isn't coming, and the constant attacks from her stepbrother in which he calls her "useless", she begins to help where she can and even develops a romantic relationship with Sayid Jarrah and befriends Claire Littleton, Sun-Hwa Kwon and Walt Lloyd. When Boone is killed, she reverts to being distant and angry. Walt, a young boy who survived the crash, entrusts his dog to Shannon when he and a few other survivors leave on a raft. Shannon later begins seeing visions of Walt, though no one believes her. She searches for him in the jungle before she gets into a tearful confrontation with Sayid. She asks him why he doesn't believe her, and why he doesn't believe IN her. Shannon thinks she is useless and therefore worthless, and is afraid that once they've been rescued Sayid will leave her just like everyone else has. Sayid tells her he does believe her, and that he loves her and will never leave her. They embrace before Shannon sees Walt again, and this time Sayid sees him as well. Shannon chases after him and is accidentally shot and killed by Ana Lucia Cortez, another survivor. Like many characters on the show, Shannon dies following the resolution of her personal issues.
  • In Gargoyles (first US air date: October 1994 (1994-10)) (animated), the coming of age of Brooklyn is subtly portrayed as his difficulties in his personal life and his eventual promotion and adjustment to the clan's second in command position develop until they simultaneously come to a head when Goliath, Elisa and Bronx disappear on their world tour.
  • Over the course of the television series Xena: Warrior Princess (first US air date: September 1995 (1995-09)), Gabrielle starts from a young, idealistic Greek farm girl to becoming a warrior, and in the end, she becomes Xena's successor.
  • Jackie Burkhart (from That '70s Show (first US air date: August 1998 (1998-08)) goes from a spoiled ditsy rich girl that nobody liked, to a girl that was actually accepted in the group, while Michael Kelso starts off as an irresponsible womanizer but eventually settles down and gets a real job to support his family after the birth of his first child.
  • Smallville (first US air date: October 2001 (2001-10)) focuses on character arcs for each of its main characters as they progress into their Superman comic book identities. Clark Kent's arc revolved around the gradual acceptance of his destiny and becoming a hero. The series also tracks Lex Luthor's progression into darkness and Lois Lane's emulation of her cousin Chloe as she becomes a hardened journalist. Other characters have their eventual character arc alluded to but never explicitly defined or realized onscreen, such as Perry White's rise to editor of the Daily Planet and Pete Ross's ascension to Vice President of the United States. As well as individual characters, there are arcs involving many characters which intertwine to tell the formation of the Justice League.

References

See also


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