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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