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Expert screenwriting tips by working screenwriters

Understand Character Arc

Every professional screenwriter intimately understands character arc and its crucial importance in helping screenplays engage, emote to and ‘pull into the story’ readers and theater audiences.

In How to Create Great Characters, we discussed great screenplay characters including:

All these characters had great character arcs.


What is a character arc?

A character arc is the journey your character goes through within your screenplay - their arc will change them in some way (usually positively). Together with their flaws, their character arc helps us emote to them.

How can you not emote to, even want to fight with and for, Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) in Shawshank Redemption or Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) in American Beauty?

Both these characters greatly change through their respective storylines. One journey ends in triumph, the other in death but that death came through living life to the fullest.

We feel for them as they change, want them to overcome their fears and the obstacles before them.

Novice screenwriters often don't understand character arc

Many novice screenplays lack character arc. The protagonist doesn't change or grow as part of their journey (i.e. the script's storyline) - they remain static, learn little if anything from their narrative.

Scripts without a character arc lack depth and don't emote well or draw the reader or audience in.

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Related articles on this site

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How to Create Great Characters

Character Intros

Put your Characters in the Worst Possible Situations

How to Write Great Dialogue

The Stakes: Set Them High

Drama and Conflict

Your Script Must Emote Well

External links

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Wikipedia: Character Arc

Wikipedia: Forrest Gump

Wikipedia: Shawshank Redemption

Wikipedia: American Beauty