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What Is a Character Arc?
Written by
Maria Murnane
March 2014
Written by
Maria Murnane
March 2014

character arc is a fancy way of explaining how a character changes throughout the course of a story. It doesn't have to be major, but you want your main characters, especially your protagonist, to experience some sort of change along the journey that is your novel. If your readers get to the end of your book and think "She didn't learn anything! He's still so selfish! No one matured at all!" you probably didn't tell a very interesting story. You want your readers to think the opposite. "Wow! She finally grew up! He learned that hard work does pay! They got what they deserved!" Character arcs satisfy readers, and satisfied readers come back for future books - and tell their friends.

Over four novels, my protagonist (Waverly Bryson) grows up a lot! This is her Facebook profile photo.

I know from experience that the idea of "crafting an arc" can be daunting. However, it doesn't have to be. Here is a good way to approach it: As you set out to write, think about where your main characters are at the beginning of the story. Ask yourself questions such as:

  •  What do they want?
  •  What are they missing?
  •  What is holding them back from getting what they want or where they need to be?

Ask yourself these questions first. The answers can be as broad as "She wants to find love" or as specific as "He wants to get back the ring that was stolen from his office desk." Then, as you go about developing the plot, keep those questions in mind. If the things your characters do and say throughout the story are consistently in pursuit of a goal, however small, an arc will naturally develop. Keeping those questions in mind will also stop you from going off on tangents and writing scenes that don't push the story forward, something I'll address in a future post.


Maria Murnane is the best-selling author of Perfect on Paper, It's a Waverly Life, Honey on Your Mind, Chocolate for Two, and Cassidy Lane. She also provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Learn more at

This blog post originally appeared on Reprinted with permission. © 2014 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

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  • Mardith Louisell

    Not sure about this, Maria. True for certain books, I'm sure. The questions are great but . . . not all books have someone changing for the better or even the worse. Balzac, for instance. Maybe they go through something, trying to deal with those questions, but get nowhere, or worse. Yes? No?