Welcome to day . . . *sings alphabet in head while counting* . . . seven of our A-Z series. Today is all about growth, specifically in characters, otherwise known as the arc.
Simply put, a character’s growth arc is how he changes from the beginning to the end of the story. This post outlines how that can occur, though it’s written in a concrete way and could box writers in (the MC doesn’t necessarily need to start the story with a wound they are comfortable with, for example. They could be dealing with something they aren’t comfortable with – or maybe life was pretty damn good before the inciting incident threw everything into the fan). The point is the character can’t reach the end of the story and be exactly the same as he was in the beginning.
Since the protag (and other characters to a lesser degree) must have an arc for the story to be good, I could pick a number of stories to illustrate the concept. In The King’s Speech, King George developed the confidence to talk to an entire country. In Avatar, Jake learns the value of other cultures. In Doctor Strange, Dr. Strange discovers there’s more significance to his life than his profession.
But for a more extensive look at arcs, let’s look at the deep and meaningful Adam Sandler masterpiece, 50 First Dates.
(I know that sounded sarcastic but I actually love this movie.)
The story begins with womanizing Henry Roth proudly serving as Hawaii’s “last bang” for lady tourists. He shows them a good time and doesn’t get tied down because their planes leave the next day. He’s happy with this arrangement until he meets Lucy, a charming local who quickly captures his attention. The problem is Lucy has a brain injury that makes her lose her memories from the day while she sleeps. She wakes up thinking it’s the day of her accident that resulted in the injury.
That means if Henry wants to be close to Lucy, he has to make her fall for him every single day, because she forgets him every night.
That takes commitment and a decision to completely abandon his old life.
And Henry isn’t the only one who changes from beginning to end. His devotion to Lucy changes those around him, including her dad, brother, and even the wait staff at Lucy’s favorite restaurant. I think this is what makes it one of those movies I can watch repeatedly.
We read and watch stories to see how characters adapt and change, for better or worse. We don’t get through our own lives without learning a thing or two, and since fiction is a reflection of life (in more dramatic fashion), our characters should as well.
What are some of the most meaningful growth arcs you’ve seen?