A hero’s transformational arc is the moral and ethical backbone of many memorable stories. Handled well, it validates the hero’s actions and helps to sell the plot. But crafting an effective transformational arc often proves difficult for new and inexperienced writers.
After all, what exactly changes in the hero? What causes the change? How does this affect the plot? These are some of the most pressing concerns writers face when working with the hero’s transformational arc.
Let’s look at each in turn.
1. What changes in the hero? Typically heroes are good people who have lost their way or have not found it yet. They have potential. They are eminently redeemable.
In Edge of Tomorrow, Major William Cage prefers promoting the war effort behind studio cameras rather than taking the fight to the alien enemy in the field. He is smart, determined, good at his job, but he is also a coward. His transformation is from cowardliness to courage.
2. What causes the change? Change comes when external events trigger the hero’s positive character traits.
In The Matrix Neo is obsessed with a central question: What is the Matrix? He is intelligent, strong, and inquisitive, but lacks the self-belief to implement the answers he receives. But when agent Smith threatens to wipe out all resistance and enslave humanity forever, Neo allows Trinity’s kiss to bring him back from the dead and defeat the sentient program.
3. How does this affect the plot? Character growth supports the plot by motivating and explaining the hero’s actions.
The plot arises when the hero pursues a goal but is prevented by his nemesis from achieving it. It is only when he fulfills his potential that he is able to adjust his strategy, defeat his nemesis, and achieve success. The hero’s transformation from cowardliness to courage, self-doubt to self-belief, from ignorance to knowledge, therefore, affects the quality of his actions and the direction of the plot.
Answering a series of questions, such as those posed above, then, is one way of understanding the relation between your hero’s developmental arc and the plot.
A skillful interweaving of character development and plot is essential to the quality and success of any story.
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Image: Bill Strain