How does the character arc serve the story?

The character arc in Edge of Tomorrow.
Major Cage’s character arc tracks the stakes in Edge of Tomorrow.

So, you want to write a great story? Then at the very least you should relate the hero’s character arc to his struggle to achieve his goal.

Causally linking the hero’s inner growth to the quality of his actions will help ensure the authenticity of the story. Importantly, your hero should never act beyond the limits of his current moral, spiritual and physical skills. The quality of his performance at the level of action has to reflect his current ability to achieve it. As the hero grows so does the efficacy of his actions.

But if the hero keeps improving through each hostile encounter, why does he not attain the goal earlier in the story?

”The hero’s character arc, his growth towards moral, spiritual and physical power remains insufficient to overcome the worsening challenges he encounters—until his final confrontation with the antagonist.”

That‘s because the hero’s growth is outpaced by the increase in difficulty of each new challenge. The knowledge that the hero brings to each new confrontation is less than the knowledge required to gain the goal—until the final conflict, where the necessary lessons have been fully learnt. It is only then that the hero is able to integrate the separate areas of growth needed to defeat the antagonist.

in Edge of Tomorrow, Major William Cage has to die countless of times before he acquires the necessary skill to defeat the Mimics that have decimated the earth. It is only when he is stripped bare of his ignorance, and his ability to resurrect himself, that he finally stands a chance at a permanent victory against the invading aliens.

In the best selling novel, Scarab, the protagonist, Jack Wheeler, fails to outwit the villain and protect the woman he loves until he realises that he must sacrifice what he wants, to win Emma’s love, if he is to gain what he needs—to save her life. It is a realisation that takes him most of the story to achieve.


The hero’s character arc, his growth towards spiritual, moral and practical strength, lags behind the evolving challenges of the plot, until the end of the story.

2 thoughts on “How does the character arc serve the story?

  1. Stavros

    Hi, Gerhard. I talk extensively about the relationship of character to the categories of multiform and multistrand narratives in my PhD thesis, and in articles on this site.

  2. Gerhard Pistorius

    Research has defined the millennial generation as adults between the ages of 22 and 38 years old in 2019. A person between the age of 20 and 25 recently showed me how he is able to connect his play station 4 to his smart phone and how he is able to play his narrative driven video game ( inserted in the consul ) on his phone. I mention this because watching Edge of Tomorrow feels like a video game experience where the character is killed and has to start over. It got me thinking – the video game phenomenon is the present and future of how the younger generation consume multi media. Games are getting more and more sophisticated not just in game play but in narrative driven structure. The Game that is at this moment the best example is the Last of Us series. Basic plot : The main protagonist is a person of special importance whose sacrifice would have lead to a medical brake through that would have benefited humanity. When a character ( Played by you) saves her against her will he kills the one person in the world who could perform the surgery that would have changed the world. Many years later the daughter ( a playable character) of the murdered surgeon embarks on quest for revenge. When she succeeds the main protagonist ( a playable character) embarks on her own quest for revenge that leads to a stand off against the daughter of the surgeon. The end result is a rich experience filled with criss-cross situations and betrayals that makes the characters consistently question whether or not the pursuit of revenge is worth the loss of life they inflict on one another and the people who get in the way.

    In short : How does the character arc serve the story in a world where the method in which we consume narrative structure is consistently changing . The play station 5 ( coming Christmas 2020) the emerging streaming wars ( Netflix & company) are perhaps the biggest game changers since cinema went toe toe toe with live stage production.


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