Characters with No Arc?

Since the release of our Character Trait Thesaurus books almost a year ago, Angela and I have gone kind of nuts with the characterization posts. We just learned so much in the writing of these books, and we wanted to share some of that character building info with you guys.

Most of what we’ve written has to do with characters and their arcs—topics like The Four Types of Character Flaws, Using Quirks to Build Personality, Understanding Character Wounds, and The Duality of Character Traits. Angela and I (and most of the rest of the world) are suckers for a character with a good arc. We want to see a character struggle, fall, recognize her fatal flaw, and fight to overcome it in order to finally achieve happiness and peace. This is the textbook story that can be told a million different ways with a million different characters. When done well, it resonates with readers.

But one thing we haven’t talked about is the character with no arc. No change over time. No personal growth. You know who I’m talking about: Indiana Jones, James Bond, Ellen Ripley (in the first Alien movie), and the original Willy Wonka (just say no to creepy Johnny Depp). Clearly, people respond to these characters, or they wouldn’t appear in so many movies.

But how does that work, exactly?

K.M. WeilandWell, I was thrilled to open my inbox yesterday and find that K.M. Weiland has addressed THIS VERY ISSUE. So rather than try and reinvent the wheel, I’m pointing you to the post at Katie’s blog, where you can learn not only how to effectively write an arc-less character but you’ll find a ton of other writing tips, too.


Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling. You can find Becca online at both of these spots, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.
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14 Responses to Characters with No Arc?

  1. Looks like a great blog, thanks for the post.

  2. Huh. The only one I can think about is the doctor from the Fugitive movie…kind of a hard character to write I guess. Loving the character books. Thanks so much!
    Edge of Your Seat Stories

    • Oooh! That’s a good one. No great change there. I would say, though, that he acts as the catalyst for change in his reflection character, Sam Gerard. The marshall is the one who starts out thinking he knows everything, that he’s got Richard Kimball figured out. But he learns over the course of the story that sometimes people aren’t what they appear to be, that the perceived bad guy can actually be the good guy.

      Wow, I never thought of that—how the main character isn’t the one with the arc, but he’s the one who brings about the change in a supporting character. Good stuff.

      • K.M. Weiland says:

        I haven’t seen Fugitive in years, but what Becca’s saying here resonates with me. When the main character is the impact character (who is influencing change in the lives of characters around him), that’s the sign of a flat arc. Flat arcs *are* arcs because they incorporate changes based on foundational Lie/Truths. But the big difference is that the main character isn’t the one changing, but rather the one inspiring change in others. If you’re interested, you can read more about flat arcs here and the impact character here

  3. I will check out K. M.’s blog. Thanks for telling me about it.

  4. :Donna Marie says:

    Seriously, I can never get enough of what ALL you ladies put out here for us 🙂 I long for the time I am able to actually put all this writerly info into ACTION! 😀

    I read K.M.’s article, which explained PERFECTLY the differences between No Arc and Flat Arc (thank you!). The one thing I’m either confused about or feel I disagree with is that, in “Jurassic Park,” that there are no character arcs. Though they may not be earth-shattering, the archaeologist grows in the way that he has no interest, whatsoever, in children, then has a major change of heart with the children in the story having brought that out in him. And the park owner having realized how wrong and lacking in foresight his “big” idea was. Wouldn’t they be considered character arcs?

    • Donna, I was a little stumped by this, too, until I clicked on the link in the post about positive change arcs within a subplot. If you read that post, it explains that Dr. Grant does have an arc, but that it’s tangential to the main plot rather than being pivotal to it. the main plot is based on his belief that nature can’t be controlled. His dislike of kids has nothing to do with that core belief about nature, which doesn’t change over the course of the story and is actually proven true. Pasting the link here, since it’s awesome 🙂

      • :Donna Marie says:

        Ah, OK, Becca—then the point made here is that the arc would have to be central to the story rather than an “aside.” Gotcha! Thank you for clarifying 🙂

      • K.M. Weiland says:

        Ditto what Becca said about Alan’s subplot change arc. As for Hammond, you’re absolutely right. He *does* experience a change arc. His change arc is influenced by the flat arc characters (Alan, Ellie, and Ian), who already know the Truth and teach it to him over the course of the story. We can’t have a flat arc (which, don’t forget, is different from *no* arc) without having minor characters experience a change arc.

  5. K.M. Weiland says:

    Hey, thanks for the shout out, gals! 🙂

  6. I will pop over to K.M.’s blog. The webinar sounds fantastic. I hope to attend. Thanks, for all you do for writers. You two ROCK!

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