24 April 2013

T is for Transformational Character Arc

I'm thanking my fellow blogger, randi, over at The Emotional Process of Writing a Novel, for inspiring this blog post. She had mentioned the transformational character arc in one of her comments on a blog post, and I was immediately struck and wanted to share this post and one of my favorite character arcs.

From Dictionary.com
trans•for•ma•tion  [trans-fer-mey-shuhn]


1. the act or process of transforming.
2. the state of being transformed.
3. change in form, appearance, nature, or character.

In the physical sense, when you watch one of those shows where they take a homely looking, frumpy person and transform them into a more attractive version of themselves, you get an idea of what transformation is. You can visually see it.

An ice cube is solid. Apply a process of heating the ice, and it is transformed into liquid form. It's still the same element, only in a different state of being. In a character arc, this transformation is internal, so how do you show this?

In a physical transformation, you have a start, a process, and a product. Why can't we just use this as a model for our character transformation?

  1. We start with a basic concept of self, outlook on life, attitude, etc.
  2. The character is pushed through a process in the course of the story.
  3. We reveal a newer concept of self, outlook on life, attitude, etc.

  1. My character hates men and thinks they're all sexist pigs. 
  2. She is pushed through a process where a man treats her exceptionally different.
  3. She has developed a deeper respect for her fellow man.

  1. My character rebels against an institution which discriminates against his people.
  2. He infiltrates the organization and is pushed through a process and becomes enlightened about the real internal workings of the organization.
  3. He helps to cultivate a new culture in the organization, which can now help his people more effectively.

No matter how complex the story, there are these basic steps in transformation. We can apply it to the transformational character arc. These are generic, but to me, it seems simple. As long as the model exists, the story can be anything, and your character arc will be complete.

Are there other examples of character arcs using this model that you can think of? My favorite was Maverick in Top Gun.

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