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blog Change Arc: The Inner Journey

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Caged Maiden, Sep 2, 2018.

  1. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    Caged Maiden submitted a new blog post:

    Change Arc: The Inner Journey
    by A. Howitt


    Simply put, a change arc is the inner journey a character experiences from the beginning of the story to the end. It’s their transformation, or their lesson learned. It’s how far they’ve really come regardless the distance of their physical journey.

    And it’s super easy to mess up.

    So, here’s a cheat sheet to use when you need to either rein in a runaway change arc, or kick an underwhelming change arc into high gear.

    Fantasy Character Arcs

    In fantasy, we mainly see two types of stories—those in which the hero changes during the journey (change arc), and those in which the world or people around the hero change during the journey (flat arc). If the character is essentially the same person in the beginning and end of the story, his flat arc is how he influences secondary characters, or society, etc.. He may grow in some ways, but it doesn’t create a true change in him.

    The change arc begins with one image of the character and ends with an opposing image. If he’s a liar in the beginning, by the ending he’s honest as the day is long. If he’s devout in the opening scene, he’s heretical in the closing scene. Not just any opposing images, mind you—specifically the ones that show he’s discovered some truth in the world that has changed him. That truth is the foundation of his change arc. It also connects the story’s theme to the character’s plot journey.

    In many...
    Continue reading the Original Blog Post.
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  2. Orc Knight

    Orc Knight Auror

    1. Well, from my take on it, the character arc helps with the goals of the story (especially if the character don't know they're in for some change) and certainly can make them more engaging as they go through all the tests that either make or break them.

    2. Honestly, for me? It's when the characters and the arc itself changes directions and learning to go with it. Though sometimes kind of a disappointment when the things don't go as planned. But,eh, that's what they do.

    3. Turning a drunken, lazy lech of an elf into someone truly heroic and getting some help with her issues that range from PTSD to alcoholism as she must once again face up to saving the world she's already more or less saved single handedly once already and can't even remember doing it. And also developing steady and stable romantic relationships so she has some grounding and help in that too.
  3. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    Hi Greybeard, great question.

    How you show the change will depend on the nature of the story and the way the change happens. The change arc is an internal thing, so it can feel heavy-handed to have someone come right out and say, "I see you really got over your horrible cheapness, Mr. Scrooge. What happened there?" Instead, it's easier to show him give money to charity and buy gifts for people he cares about. That's an opposite image to the one that began the story. Of course dialogue can help emphasize the change, but it shouldn't overshadow the change itself.

    The character I'm currently writing (a negative change arc) clings to her integrity because without it, she wouldn't feel better than the criminals who surround her. But during the story, she throws her honesty away in favor of power. At the end of the story, she becomes as bad as the people around her, and even exhibits jealousy for a friend who stayed genuine.

    I don't specifically have the character reflect upon what it means to her that she abandoned her moral high ground, but it is implied because of the contrast. The first image of her is one in which she places a lot of importance on being honest (while truly wanting to be loved), and the last image, exercising her newly gained power within society (which came at the sacrifice of her integrity, and she still isn't loved). I even hint that all is not well and good within the character as she quickly finds out the grass isn't greener (and that power without love is not an improvement)...right before the story ends.

    A character is changed when he defeats the antagonistic force (even if he was in denial up to the battle itself). That climactic moment shows that the change has happened, because without having embraced the truth, he couldn't have beaten the antagonist. The closing scenes should satisfy the reader, perhaps by mirroring the opening scene and having the character act according to the truth rather than their original lie. There's no reason it couldn't be done with dialogue. The point is that the change arc is about choices. To show the change, you must give your character choices to make, and he must choose according to either the lie or the truth. And at the ending, it's perfectly okay to be subtle, if that's what the story needs.

    Hope that helps.
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  4. argentquill

    argentquill Scribe

    Is it enough of a change arc if my heroine has a humbling moment? She has pushed ahead with provoking the enemy to come and get her. And when her glorious battle escalates, in the aftermath she sees they outsmarted her: they spirited away a dear friend and comrade. Now she has to change her point of view from field combat to subterranean infiltration with the elf and dwarf allies she met earlier.
  5. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    My current story has a flat arc, because it's mostly an adventure story. So it's a matter of each character (three primary ones) being tested in the crucible and coming out the other side. Maybe stronger, but not really changed.

    That's quite different from my first novel, in which the main character ends up respecting what he had previously despised, and acting upon that.

    There's room for both types of arc, as you note. Oh, and I agree: Weiland has some good stuff.
  6. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

    Sorry, didn't see this comment.

    To answer, a humbling moment is not an arc. Any moment isn't an arc. An arc must begin somewhere and end somewhere else.

    In a flat arc, Cinderella is a kind and humble abused girl, and during the story her circumstances change. She is given help by a fairy godmother, meets a prince, falls in love, but in the end, she's still kind, still humble, just rich and happy. SHE has not changed. The world has, society has, or the circumstances have.

    In a positive arc, Scrooge was too cheap to pay for coal, so he made everyone around him suffer and freeze, he was stingy, callous, and uncaring. In his story, he was transformed by the plot which made him confront a lonely death where no one came to his funeral (a contrast to the number of people there to bury Tim). In the end, he was charitable, loving, and kind. He didn't end his story giving table scraps to the poor and throwing a few pennies in a collection jar. He gave freely, with no trace of his former belief that money was better than love.

    In a negative arc, Anakin began good, loving, proud, strong. During his story, because he had a seed of disdain for authority planted in his young years, and felt a great amount of tragedy internally for his mother's fate, he rejected the truth about his goodness (when confronted with another loss) and embraced what he wanted. He was changed into a different sort of person, just as fully as Scrooge.

    The questions I included above in the article were meant to help pick out certain moments in the story where your character will grapple with their truth and their lie. Where their inner journey will change and echo the outer one.

    If you don't feel your character is truly changing perhaps you are writing a flat arc (which is not the scope of this article, I only mentioned them so as not to downplay their validity by talking singularly about the change arc). For a change arc to work you must show a beginning view of the character and an end one, and they will be opposites, determined by the character's INNER journey, not the external one.

    If your character realizes she's been outsmarted and moving forward applies new tactics to overcome the antagonistic force, she is NOT changed unless abandonment of the old technique and adoption of the new is somehow dependent on her abandoning some long-held misconception that was leading to inner unhappiness/ incompleteness. If this outsmarting moment will CHANGE how she views the world/ herself and lead to a new understanding of what she needs in order to be happy, that's a change arc. In that case, the change must be set up from the beginning, as part of the story's fabric. That's the only way to make it feel important and vital.

    You asked whether a pivotal moment is enough of a change, and the short answer is no. Not if you're writing a change arc. However, flat arcs often have amazingly pivotal moments and twists, yet they affect no personal or inner change for the main character. What they change is circumstances, which makes for a great story too.

    Best wishes, hope that clarifies.
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  7. Helen

    Helen Inkling

    Doesn't matter. The process is the same.

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