Learning About Character Arcs With Doctor Strange

Have you guys seen Doctor Strange yet?


Credit: imdb.com

The fam and I saw it yesterday, and it completely blew me away. I rarely see movies more than once in the theater, but I think this one deserves another viewing – maybe in 3D – just to comprehend the stuff I missed the first time. I’m not just saying that because I love Marvel movies.

The movie is an intricate and layered story dressed in cinematic effects that surpass The Matrix (which came out in 1999, to be fair). The role of Dr. Stephen Strange fits Benedict Cumberbatch like a glove. As I watched, being a storyteller, I looked for things I could glean that would enhance my own storytelling prowess. There were a number of possibilities – good vs. evil, secondary characters, even humor – but for this story, we need to talk about the character arc.

And since it’s new, I’ll do my best to complete this post with a minimum of spoilers.

For those just starting their writing journeys, a character arc is basically how the main character (or other characters) change from the beginning to the end of the story. All important characters have arcs – or they should, because stories without arcs aren’t satisfying. We want to see how characters change and grow (for better or worse).


Credit: imdb.com

The main character in Doctor Strange starts the story as an arrogant neurosurgeon. Some would say rightfully so, as he’s obviously brilliant and highly skilled. However, it is this arrogance that leads to his downfall – a horrible crash that is the direct result of him recklessly driving his fancy car. His surgeon hands are crushed and despite extensive operations, the nerve damage is so severe he suffers permanent shaking and an end to his career.

This is unacceptable, and it gives him a huge motive (something else an MC needs) – do whatever it takes to get his hands fixed, even if it means traveling to the far side of the world and exploring ideas he would have quickly dismissed before.


Credit: imdb.com

Fast forward a bit – he learns how to travel through dimensions with portals and how to fight by channeling energy from the multiverse, ultimately becoming – well, I said no spoilers (I don’t think I spilled any major ones so far), so you’ll have to watch the movie if you want to see what he becomes. Suffice it to say, he can’t possibly become it and stay the self-centered man he was.

Here’s the kicker (and this kind of is a spoiler) – his hands don’t get fixed. His primary goal isn’t met, but he becomes a better man in spite of it (or because of it?). And he gets a new, much more important goal.

If you haven’t seen the movie, what’s another story you’ve read/seen that shows a compelling arc? And if you have seen it – feel free to fangirl with me in the comments. Wasn’t the cloak awesome??


13 thoughts on “Learning About Character Arcs With Doctor Strange

  1. Pingback: Story Stuff: G Is For Growth | Allison Maruska

  2. Great post! I absolutely loved the movie, and have seen it more than once already (although not in 3D since 3D tends to give me a headache). Strange’s character arc is fascinating, and rather delicately done, I thought. There are several light touches, like him standing with the Ancient One watching the snow, leading up to the big “negotiation” with Dormmamu, all of which show how much he’s changed. Very deft. I also liked that Mordo has his own character arc that’s neither exactly the same, nor exactly the opposite, of Strange’s. For a movie that was so dazzling visually, there’s a surprising amount of character development, and I think the movie was much stronger for it.

    And the cloak was awesome!

    Liked by 1 person

    • “For a movie that was so dazzling visually, there’s a surprising amount of character development, and I think the movie was much stronger for it.”

      I completely agree. It could have probably gotten by with a weaker story/weaker characters because of all the effects (plenty of other movies have) but the fact that it nailed all of that will set it apart.

      And I think your point about Mordo could also be said of Wong. Beyoncé in the headphones was a nice touch. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If you haven’t seen the movie or read the comic book, this blog is one big giant tease.

    Your enthusiasm for the movie makes me want to see it… For the amount of time it took me to read this post. Now that I’m done… maybe. Maybe.


    I’m not sure character arc makes every character more interesting. I’m thinking about Star Wars – the original, which I shouldn’t have to keep saying but there’s only one Star Wars movie – Darth Vader. He starts out bad, he ends up bad, he IS bad. I’m not sure that’s bad, him being the overwhelmingly most interesting character in the movie.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Darth is capital E Evil in the first one. But by the end of Jedi….

      It’s an interesting question. Darth isn’t the main character, so if the story were written from his perspective, would it be less satisfying since he didn’t change?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, don’t rewrite it, but he is the most interesting character. Now as such, your hypothesis is that the story is interesting because the characters change through their arc. Maybe he’s a good counterbalance to that because he doesn’t change. You can’t really view the first movie in combination with all the other ones because he definitely arcs later but the first movie is fine as a standalone, and as such his character doesn’t change in it – and it still the best of every Star Wars movie that has ever been made. He is without a doubt the best villain for a generation of film watchers and probably in the top 10 overall. And he probably stays in the top 10 regardless of the other movies. In other words, if the original Star Wars was the only one made, he would still be the top 10 villain and no arc.

        Liked by 2 people

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