The Five Components of All Character Arcs

Most stories are essentially about change. Either the protagonist changes or the world around them changes, and it is how they handle the change that keeps an audience interested. This journey is what is known as a character arc.

All character arcs share the same basic five components, which every writer should be familiar with and clear about before they start writing their story.

1 The Truth

This is your premise.  Some would call it a universal statement about how your story world, or indeed the world works.  The take-away you want your audience to leave with. It is almost always is a value statement such as “No pain, no gain.” or “Opportunities to find love are all around us.” or “The moon is made of cheese.”  It is the truth that your story sets out to prove.

2 The Lie

This is the falsehood or untruth that stands in opposition and conflict to the Truth. It is more often than not, the thing stopping the protagonist from seeing, understanding or accepting the Truth. The story should be about how the character does or does not evolve past the Lie to accept or deny the Truth.

3 The Want vs the Need

These two things drive both the inner and outer stories. The Want is usually a specific materialistic plot goal, such as some form of wealth, status or relationship that the character believes will make them happy and fulfilled. The Need on the other hand, is the way to inner happiness, peace and growth. Significantly it is the Truth.

4 The Wound

Also sometimes referred to as the Flaw or the Ghost, the Wound is a traumatic incident in a characters past that has left a lingering impression that (often unbeknown to them,) emotionally skews their feelings and actions. It is this Wound that enables them to believe the Lie.

5 The Regular World

This is the story world as it is when we first meet the protagonist. It can represent either the Truth or the Lie, depending on which Arc we are going to explore in our story. The protagonist usually leaves this world either physically or symbolically at the end of the first act when they answer the call to adventure.

Next, I will look at The Five Basic Character Arcs that one needs to know and understand when designing a character and a story.

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