The Character Arc, The Human Life Cycle

The arch is a symbol of strength, but also of rise and fall. In stories, there are three types of character arcs – change, growth and fall. Thinking deeply about a storybook character’s journey reveals a hidden lesson about the narratives that make us human. That’s why a good story captures our attention. Oftentimes, a character starts off feeling certain, then an event triggers a massive shift.

Adventure can be exciting, or scary, depending on how we perceive it. Naturally, the change arc and growth arc inspire more thrill; the fall arc stirs depression. The change arc tells us of a “hero’s journey.” The TV industry can make millions off of a hero. For example, science nerd Peter Parker becomes the superhero Spiderman. Jack “The Pumpkin King” Skellington in “The Nightmare Before Christmas” finds true happiness only after learning from his mistakes, which heavily impact Sally and their beloved Halloween Town.

The growth arc paves the way for the protagonist to overcome internal opposition and face external opposition. Mr. Darcy in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ seems like the perfect man (in terms of etiquette, finances and physical appearance), but his pride repels love from his life. Yes, he’s handsome and comes across as mannerly in social situations (at times), but only through personal growth can he become a better version of himself. In the face of the witty, energetic Elizabeth Bennet, he develops into her ideal companion.

The fall arc is appropriately deemed a tragedy. This rise and fall unravels the character to his or her very core. Shakespeare’s Hamlet, for instance, desires to avenge his father’s death, an obsession which leads him down an unfortunate path – to lie and murder,  haunted by his guilty conscience and finally to his own death by poisoned sword.

But here’s the positive spin on the arc. While a storybook or screenplay often follows this path, our lives are more complex. We aren’t characters in a story; we exist in a free-form world. Let’s embark on the countless arcs in our lifetimes. Our stories carry on through the lives we touch, the conversations we have, the things we create. In the big picture outside of the book margins and television screens – our lives are circular, and in some ways, never-ending.