Character Arcs by K. M. Weiland

Links to K. M. Weiland’s posts on char­ac­ter arcs, as well as ques­tions

Links

Positive character arc

  1. Intro
  2. The Lie
  3. Want vs Need
  4. The Ghost/Wound
  5. The Char­ac­ter­is­tic moment
  6. The nor­mal world
  7. The first act
  8. The first plot point
  9. The reac­tion (1st half of 2nd act)
  10. The mid­point
  11. A strong action (2nd half of 2nd act)
  12. The low­est point
  13. The third act
  14. The cli­max
  15. The res­o­lu­tion

Flat character arc

  1. 1st act
  2. 2nd act
  3. 3rd act

Negative character arc

  1. 1st act
  2. 2nd act
  3. 3rd act

Questions

If you’ve already read all the links, these are the repro­duced ques­tions.

Positive Character Arcs

Questions to Ask About the Lie the Character Believes

  1. What mis­con­cep­tion does your pro­tag­o­nist have about him­self or the world?

  2. What is he lack­ing men­tal­ly, emo­tion­al­ly, or spir­i­tu­al­ly, as a result?

  3. How is the inte­ri­or Lie reflect­ed in the character’s exte­ri­or world?

  4. Is the Lie mak­ing his life mis­er­able when the sto­ry opens? If so, how?

  5. If not, will the Incit­ing Event and/or the First Plot Point begin to make him uncom­fort­able as a result of his Lie?

  6. Does your character’s Lie require any qual­i­fiers to nar­row its focus?

  7. What are the symp­toms of your character’s Lie?

Questions to Ask About the Thing the Character Wants and the Thing the Character Needs

  1. How is the Lie hold­ing your char­ac­ter back?

  2. How is the Lie mak­ing your char­ac­ter unhap­py or unful­filled?

  3. What Truth does your char­ac­ter Need to dis­prove the Lie?

  4. How will he learn this Truth?

  5. What does your char­ac­ter Want more than any­thing?

  6. Is the Thing He Wants his plot goal?

  7. Does he believe the Thing He Wants will solve his per­son­al prob­lems?

  8. Is the Thing He Wants hold­ing him back from the Thing He Needs?

  9. Does the Thing He Needs pre­clude his gain­ing the Thing He Wants—or will he only be able to gain the Thing He Wants after he has found the Thing He Needs?

  10. How will his life be dif­fer­ent once he embraces the Thing He Needs?

Questions to Ask About Your Character’s Ghost

  1. Why does your char­ac­ter believe the Lie?

  2. Is there a notable event in his past that has trau­ma­tized him?

  3. If not, will there be a notable event in the First Act that will trau­ma­tize him?

  4. Why does the char­ac­ter nour­ish the Lie?

  5. How will he ben­e­fit from the Truth?

  6. How “big” is your character’s ghost? If you made it big­ger, would you end up with a stronger arc?

  7. Where will you reveal your character’s ghost? All at once ear­ly on? Or piece by piece through­out the sto­ry, with big reveal toward the end?

  8. Does your sto­ry need the ghost to be revealed? Would it work bet­ter if you nev­er revealed it?

Questions to Ask About Your Characteristic Moment

  1. What impor­tant per­son­al­i­ty trait, virtue, or skill best sums up your pro­tag­o­nist?

  2. How can you dra­ma­tize this trait to its fullest extent?

  3. How can you dra­ma­tize this trait in a way that also intro­duces the plot?

  4. How can you demon­strate your protagonist’s belief in his Lie?

  5. Can you reveal or hint at his Ghost?

  6. How can you use this scene to reveal your character’s over­all sto­ry goal—the Thing He Wants Most?

  7. Does your protagonist’s pur­suit of both the sto­ry goal and the scene goal meet with an obvi­ous obsta­cle (i.e., con­flict)?

  8. How can you share impor­tant details about your pro­tag­o­nist (name, age, phys­i­cal appear­ance) quick­ly and unob­tru­sive­ly?

Questions to Ask About the Normal World

  1. What set­ting will open your sto­ry?

  2. How will this set­ting change at the First Plot Point?

  3. How can you con­trast the Nor­mal World with the “adven­ture world” to fol­low?

  4. How does the Nor­mal World dra­ma­tize or sym­bol­ize your character’s enslave­ment to the Lie?

  5. How is the Nor­mal World caus­ing or empow­er­ing the Lie?

  6. Why is your char­ac­ter in the Nor­mal World?

  7. If your char­ac­ter doesn’t want to leave the Nor­mal World, what is help­ing him mask the dis­com­fort caused by his Lie?

  8. If your char­ac­ter wants to leave, what’s stop­ping him?

  9. Will the char­ac­ter return to the Nor­mal World at the end of the sto­ry?

  10. If the Nor­mal World is a legit­i­mate­ly good place, how will the pro­tag­o­nist need to change in order to appre­ci­ate it?

Questions to Ask About the First Plot Point in Your Character’s Arc

  1. What major event will slam into your character’s Nor­mal World and force him to alter his orig­i­nal plans?

  2. What deci­sion will lead your pro­tag­o­nist to the First Plot Point?

  3. Will the First Plot Point seem favor­able? If so, how will the com­pli­ca­tions turn out to be worse than the pro­tag­o­nist expect­ed?

  4. Or will this event be obvi­ous­ly dis­as­trous?

  5. Will the pro­tag­o­nist will­ing­ly embrace the First Plot Point and walk into the Sec­ond Act under his own pow­er?

  6. Or will he have to be dragged, kick­ing and scream­ing, through the gate­way between acts?

  7. Will the First Plot Point destroy the Nor­mal World? Or will it phys­i­cal­ly remove your char­ac­ter from the Nor­mal World? Or will it warp the Nor­mal World around the pro­tag­o­nist?

  8. How will your char­ac­ter react to the First Plot Point?

  9. What new plot goal will the char­ac­ter form in response to the First Plot Point?

  10. How will the First Plot Point put your character’s feet on the path to his new Truth?

  11. How will the First Plot Point cre­ate a new world in which the char­ac­ter will be “pun­ished” for act­ing accord­ing to his Lie?

Questions to Ask About Your Character’s Arc in the First Half of the Second Act

  1. How is your char­ac­ter react­ing to the First Plot Point?

  2. What “tools” can you pro­vide to help your char­ac­ter build the first rung in the lad­der that will scale his Lie?

  3. What minor char­ac­ter can offer advice or exem­plary behav­ior to help men­tor your pro­tag­o­nist?

  4. How can you show the char­ac­ter the first step in over­com­ing his Lie, instead of just telling him about it?

  5. How will your char­ac­ter attempt to use his Lie to solve plot prob­lems?

  6. How will he be “pun­ished” as a result?

  7. How will these fail­ures evolve your character’s out­look and tac­tics?

  8. How will your character’s sin­gle-mind­ed pur­suit of his plot goal lead him clos­er to the Thing He Wants?

  9. How will his pur­suit of the Thing He Wants cause him to risk turn­ing far­ther away from the Thing He Needs?

  10. After the First Plot Point, how will the new world or the altered Nor­mal World pro­vide the char­ac­ter with a glimpse of how life might be with­out his Lie?

Questions to Ask About Your Character’s Arc in the Midpoint

  1. What per­son­al rev­e­la­tion strikes your pro­tag­o­nist at the Mid­point?

  2. How is your pro­tag­o­nist dif­fer­ent at the Mid­point from who he was at the First Plot Point?

  3. How does the rev­e­la­tion at the Mid­point prompt the char­ac­ter to move from reac­tion to action by pro­vid­ing him the knowl­edge to start tak­ing con­trol of the con­flict?

  4. What defin­i­tive action will your pro­tag­o­nist take against the antag­o­nis­tic force?

  5. What new under­stand­ing of the con­flict does the pro­tag­o­nist gain at the Mid­point?

  6. What new under­stand­ing of him­self does the pro­tag­o­nist gain at the Mid­point?

  7. What is his moment of grace? What Truth does he rec­og­nize and accept? What caus­es him to accept it?

  8. How is your char­ac­ter still con­scious­ly cling­ing to his Lie?

  9. What actions is he tak­ing that are based on the Truth?

  10. How does the con­trast between the simul­ta­ne­ous­ly held Lie and Truth evolve his inner con­flict?

Questions to Ask About Your Character’s Arc in the Second Half of the Second Act

  1. How is your char­ac­ter start­ing to take con­trol of the con­flict after the Mid­point?

  2. How is the rev­e­la­tion at the Mid­point allow­ing your char­ac­ter to see the con­flict in a new light?

  3. What “tools” has the Mid­point rev­e­la­tion giv­en your char­ac­ter that make him more effec­tive in con­fronting the antag­o­nist?

  4. How is your char­ac­ter still cling­ing to his Lie?

  5. How is his new Truth caus­ing fric­tion with his old Lie?

  6. How is your char­ac­ter still out of sync with the Truth?

  7. How does your character’s mind­set still sup­port the Lie?

  8. How do his actions demon­strate his grow­ing belief in the Truth?

  9. How can you use a “before and after” scene to prove how your char­ac­ter is dif­fer­ent from who he was in the first half of the sto­ry?

  10. What false vic­to­ry will end the Sec­ond Act? How has your char­ac­ter com­pro­mised the Truth in order to (seem­ing­ly) gain the Thing He Wants?

  11. How have you bla­tant­ly demon­strat­ed the Truth some­where in the Sec­ond Half of the Sec­ond Act?

Questions to Ask About Your Character’s Arc in the Third Plot Point

  1. What crush­ing event and/or rev­e­la­tion turns your character’s appar­ent suc­cess into the worst defeat yet?

  2. How was this defeat enabled by the character’s refusal, thus far, to com­plete­ly reject his Lie?

  3. How does this defeat force your char­ac­ter to face the true ram­i­fi­ca­tions of the Lie?

  4. How can this defeat offer the char­ac­ter a clear path toward the Thing He Wants?

  5. If he takes this path, how will it force him to reject the Thing He Needs?

  6. How can you set up a clear and decid­ed choice between the Thing He Needs and the Thing He Wants?

  7. Which will he choose?

  8. How can you lit­er­al­ly or sym­bol­i­cal­ly rep­re­sent death in this scene as a way of rein­forc­ing the demise of your character’s Lie-empow­ered old self?

Questions to Ask About Your Character’s Arc in the Third Act

  1. How does your char­ac­ter react to the Third Plot Point?

  2. How has his embrace of the Truth made a mess of his life and, specif­i­cal­ly, his pur­suit of his plot goal?

  3. How can you up the stakes by forc­ing him into phys­i­cal, as well as emo­tion­al, straits?

  4. How do these straits force your char­ac­ter to recon­sid­er whether or not the Truth is the right choice for him?

  5. How does he rise from these doubts deter­mined to cling to the Truth?

  6. What doubts is the char­ac­ter still expe­ri­enc­ing about the Truth?

  7. How is his inabil­i­ty to com­plete­ly reject the Lie keep­ing him from total hap­pi­ness and empow­er­ment?

  8. How are your character’s atti­tudes and actions dif­fer­ent in the Third Act from how they were in the First? How can you sub­tly rein­force the dif­fer­ence pri­or to the Cli­max?

  9. How will your character’s devo­tion to the Truth be put to the test? What char­ac­ter or sit­u­a­tion will you use to try to tempt or bul­ly your pro­tag­o­nist back into serv­ing the Lie?

Questions to Ask About Your Character’s Arc in the Climax

  1. How does your char­ac­ter prove he is a changed per­son in the Cli­max?

  2. Does the renewed attack upon his new Truth hap­pen before the Cli­max or dur­ing the Cli­max? What are the pac­ing chal­lenges of either choice?

  3. How does the character’s final embrace of the Truth enable his vic­to­ry in the exte­ri­or con­flict?

  4. Does he ful­ly embrace the Thing He Needs in the Cli­max?

  5. How does he use the Thing He Needs to defeat the antag­o­nist?

  6. Does he gain the Thing He Wants?

  7. How has his view of the Thing He Wants changed? Does he still want it?

Questions to Ask About Your Character’s Arc in the Resolution

  1. How does your Res­o­lu­tion con­trast your story’s begin­ning?

  2. How does your Res­o­lu­tion mir­ror your story’s begin­ning?

  3. How is the character’s new Nor­mal World dif­fer­ent from the orig­i­nal one?

  4. Does the char­ac­ter return to his old Nor­mal World?

  5. How does the Res­o­lu­tion answer your story’s the­mat­ic ques­tion?

  6. How can you state the answer to the the­mat­ic ques­tion in dia­logue with­out mak­ing it seem like a “moral of the sto­ry”?

  7. How does your char­ac­ter act dif­fer­ent­ly in the Res­o­lu­tion from how he did at the begin­ning of the sto­ry?

Flat Character Arc

Questions to Ask About the First Act in a Flat Character Arc

  1. What Truth does your char­ac­ter already believe at the begin­ning of your sto­ry?

  2. Does he have a Ghost in his back­sto­ry that prompt­ed this belief?

  3. What Lie, as rep­re­sent­ed by the antag­o­nis­tic force, will he have to fight?

  4. Does his Nor­mal World rep­re­sent the Truth he will be fight­ing to protect—or does it rep­re­sent the Lie he must over­throw in order to estab­lish the Truth?

  5. If the for­mer, how can you illus­trate the encroach­ing threat of the Lie upon that Nor­mal World?

  6. When will your pro­tag­o­nist first become aware of the threat of the Lie?

  7. Is the pro­tag­o­nist ini­tial­ly reluc­tant to engage in a bat­tle with the Lie?

  8. If he is already com­mit­ted to bat­tling the Lie, what obsta­cles in the First Act pre­vent him from a full-on con­fronta­tion with the Lie?

  9. What Char­ac­ter­is­tic Moment can you use to illus­trate your character’s devo­tion to the Truth—and the resul­tant knowl­edge and skills he is able to wield?

  10. How can your open­ing illus­trate the Lie that oppos­es the pro­tag­o­nist?

  11. Through­out the First Act, how can you use the Lie to prove what is at stake for the pro­tag­o­nist?

Questions to Ask About the Second Act in a Flat Character Arc

  1. How does the First Plot Point force your char­ac­ter into a direct con­fronta­tion with the Lie?

  2. Does he will­ing­ly con­front the Lie—or does he con­front it only because he has no oth­er choice?

  3. How will the char­ac­ter be tempt­ed away from his Truth?

  4. How close will he come to actu­al­ly aban­don­ing the Truth and embrac­ing the Lie?

  5. What allies will ini­tial­ly resist his devo­tion to the Truth?

  6. How will those allies even­tu­al­ly be changed by the Truth?

  7. How will his ene­mies resist his Truth?

  8. How will those ene­mies become even more entrenched in the Lie as a result?

  9. Is the character’s main plot goal direct­ly relat­ed to defeat­ing the Lie in the world around him?

  10. If not, why will he have to over­come the Lie in order to reach his main plot goal?

  11. What doesn’t the char­ac­ter under­stand about the Lie in the first half of the sto­ry?

  12. What impor­tant infor­ma­tion will he learn about the Lie and the antag­o­nis­tic force at the Mid­point?

  13. How can he offer a “moment of grace,” via his Truth, either gen­er­al­ly to the world around him or specif­i­cal­ly to his allies and/or the antag­o­nist?

  14. At the Mid­point, what weak­ness does the pro­tag­o­nist find in the Lie that he can exploit in the sec­ond half?

Questions to Ask About the Third Act in a Flat Character Arc

  1. How is the Truth now evi­dent in the lives of the pre­vi­ous­ly Lie-dri­ven sup­port­ing char­ac­ters?

  2. What defeat will near­ly break your protagonist—physically, emo­tion­al­ly, or both—at the Third Plot Point?

  3. How can he face death—literally or figuratively—in the Third Plot Point?

  4. How can you make this defeat as per­son­al as pos­si­ble for the pro­tag­o­nist?

  5. How will your pro­tag­o­nist doubt his abil­i­ty to con­quer the Lie—without actu­al­ly doubt­ing the Truth itself?

  6. How will he over­come this doubt? Will sup­port­ing char­ac­ters encour­age him—or will he encour­age them?

  7. How will you indi­cate your protagonist’s re-ded­i­ca­tion of him­self to the Truth after his defeat at the Third Plot Point?

  8. Can you offer an out­right state­ment of the conflict’s foun­da­tion­al “Lie vs. Truth” premise?

  9. Why will the Truth be intrin­sic to the protagonist’s abil­i­ty to phys­i­cal­ly defeat the antag­o­nist?

  10. How can minor char­ac­ters’ new grip on the Truth sup­port your protagonist’s final attack on the Lie with­out steal­ing the lime­light from him?

  11. How will the Res­o­lu­tion prove the changes cre­at­ed by the pro­tag­o­nist and his Truth?

  12. Will the world be dif­fer­ent from how it was in the beginning—or will the pro­tag­o­nist return to the same world he was orig­i­nal­ly forced to leave?

  13. Which of the sup­port­ing char­ac­ters will man­i­fest the Truth in the Res­o­lu­tion?

  14. Will the pro­tag­o­nist demon­strate any exte­ri­or or per­son­al dif­fer­ences from who he was at the begin­ning of the sto­ry?

  15. How can you rein­force that his core Truth has not changed at all?

Negative character arc

Questions to Ask About the First Act in a Negative Character Arc

  1. Will your pro­tag­o­nist fuil­fill a dis­il­lu­sion­ment arc, a fall arc, or a cor­rup­tion arc?
  2. What Lie will your char­ac­ter fall prey to?
  3. How does this Lie man­i­fest in the begin­ning of your sto­ry?
  4. How does the Truth man­i­fest in the char­ac­ter (in a dis­il­lu­sion­ment arc) or in the world around him in?
  5. How is the char­ac­ter devalu­ing the Truth in the begin­ning of the sto­ry?
  6. What Ghost is influ­enc­ing the character’s belief in or pro­cliv­i­ty toward the Lie?
  7. What is the Thing the Char­ac­ter Needs?
  8. What is the Thing the Char­ac­ter Wants?
  9. If you’re using a dis­il­lu­sion­ment arc, why does the Lie’s Nor­mal World appeal to the char­ac­ter?
  10. If you’re using a fall arc, how is the char­ac­ter already entrenched in the Lie’s Nor­mal World? Why has he not yet made a move to escape this Nor­mal World?
  11. If you’re using a cor­rup­tion arc, how is the character’s Nor­mal World nour­ished by the Truth? Why is the char­ac­ter still less than com­fort­able in this world?
  12. How can you use the Char­ac­ter­is­tic Moment to intro­duce your character’s pro­cliv­i­ty toward the Lie?
  13. What is at stake for the char­ac­ter if he choos­es to fol­low the Lie?
  14. What is at stake for the char­ac­ter if he choos­es to fol­low the Truth?

Questions to Ask About the Negative Character Arc in the Second Act

  1. What is your character’s great fault in the begin­ning of your sto­ry (e.g., lust, hatred, etc.)?

  2. How does the First Plot Point ini­tial­ly seem to be a good thing?

  3. How is the character’s even­tu­al descent fore­shad­owed even amid the pos­i­tive aspects of the First Plot Point?

  4. In the First Half of the Sec­ond Act, what is ham­per­ing the char­ac­ter from gain­ing the Thing He Wants Most?

  5. If you’re writ­ing a dis­il­lu­sion­ment arc, what is your char­ac­ter learn­ing about the Lie in the First Half of the Sec­ond Act?

  6. If you’re writ­ing a fall arc, how is your char­ac­ter suf­fer­ing for his devo­tion to the Lie?

  7. If you’re writ­ing a cor­rup­tion arc, why is your char­ac­ter grow­ing more and more enam­ored with the Lie?

  8. At the Mid­point, what moment of grace gives your char­ac­ter an oppor­tu­ni­ty to embrace the Truth? Why and how does he reject it?

  9. How is your char­ac­ter active­ly and aggres­sive­ly using the Lie to pur­sue the Thing He Wants in the Sec­ond Half of the Sec­ond Act?

  10. In the Sec­ond Half of the Sec­ond Act, how is the char­ac­ter evolv­ing into the worst pos­si­ble man­i­fes­ta­tion of his ini­tial great fault?

Questions to Ask About the Negative Character Arc in the Third Act

  1. How will your char­ac­ter fail in the story’s end?

  2. How will his actions irrev­o­ca­bly dam­age oth­ers?

  3. What tragedy will con­front your pro­tag­o­nist at the Third Plot Point?

  4. How will your char­ac­ter react to the Third Plot Point?

  5. Why does your character’s refusal to embrace the Truth ren­der him pow­er­less to rise from the Third Plot Point bet­ter equipped to deal with both his inner and out­er con­flict?

  6. What less-than-ide­al (and pos­si­bly even down­right evil) plan will your pro­tag­o­nist come up with for con­fronting the antag­o­nis­tic force and gain­ing the Thing He Wants?

  7. Will sup­port­ing char­ac­ters try to rea­son with your pro­tag­o­nist? How will he respond?

  8. In the Cli­max, will your char­ac­ter gain the Thing He Wants? If so, why will he real­ize his vic­to­ry is still a hol­low one? How will he react?

  9. Alter­na­tive­ly, will your char­ac­ter fail to gain his ulti­mate goal? How will he react?

  10. After his fail­ure in the Cli­max, will your char­ac­ter at least momen­tar­i­ly real­ize the Truth and con­front the futil­i­ty of his actions?

  11. How are your character’s actions in the Cli­max a mag­ni­fied reflec­tion of his Lie in the begin­ning of the sto­ry?

  12. How does your Res­o­lu­tion show the effect of your protagonist’s actions upon sup­port­ing char­ac­ters and the world-at-large?

  13. Will you end on a hope­ful note or a despair­ing note? Why?

  14. How does your clos­ing scene under­line the character’s ulti­mate fail­ure?


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