BLUF(Bottom Line Up Front):
A transformational character arc is one where a character goes from Joe Snuffy to Captain America. Often associated with epic stories and the archetypal hero’s journey story structure.
In the transformational arc, your character begins as a normal person in a normal world. Often this normal world reflects our world, like Harry Potter living at the Dursley’s. The reason the character begins here is to help the readers associate with the character. We all know that one person who’s like Dudley that just finds pleasure in torturing other family members.
Other times, you’ll find your character is a non-human character in a non-standard location. Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit starts out as just another hobbit in The Shire. Here your World-Building will be more important than ever. The world you’ve built for your story will create that sense of normal for your character.
Then something will have to change for your character, often referred to as the “Call to Adventure.” This can be a letter in the mail or a request from a wizard. The approach to the change or event that challenges your character can be fantastical or casual. But what that drives the character to do must take them out of their comfort zone. I’ve always believed no significant change can come without dramatic actions, whether our choice or not.
The above should take you to about a halfway point where the character finds their normal life changed, a quest accepted, or a prophecy fulfilled. This area of the Transformational arc often includes the gathering of travel companions, supplies needed, and the gaining of knowledge required for their journey. You can also view the beginning of the transformational character arc as the apprenticeship phase because you’ll often find a mentor assisting the protagonist through preparations.
The middle of your transformational character arc will find the character learning, progressing through their travels, and growing through a minor trial or two. Your character still identifies with their old self, even though the journey has changed them. There may also be a sense of acceptance among those who at first stood off from the character in the initial introductions.
Most of the time you’ll find that your characters that were once in a normal world (that is close to our own) become immersed in the new world. Harry Potter learns the truth about the sorcerers (or philosophers depending on your country) stone and promises to protect it. Harry has left most of his old world behind and is taking on the challenges of his new world. Bilbo reaches his midpoint in the hobbit when goblins capture him and the dwarves in the mountains. Bilbo proves his worth to the dwarves in that scene.
The midpoint for the character arc is where the character acts more than react.
Actions have consequences, and character development is no exception to that rule. The goal in the transformational arc is that by the end of your story, your character should be so unrecognizable that they’re almost a new character. There will be that one thing, a constant, that ties the character to who they are. Sometimes this is a personality, an object, or an overall purpose.
When the readers reach the end of Harry’s journey in book one, they will discover a boy who has gained confidence in himself, his friends, and the magic he’s just learning. Compare that to the boy locked in a closet under the stairs, who doesn’t know who he is beyond a burden. Bilbo’s character arc is the ideal of a hero arc. He realizes his true abilities, but it doesn’t become arrogant or lose his values. Showing that a hero can achieve great deeds without hindering their persons.
The transformational character arc continues to turn out compelling characters. Not every story will use a transformational character, but you’ll notice them throughout many books. Those mentioned above are only a few transformational characters. Do you have a favorite character that experiences a transformational character arc? Are you using the transformational character arc? Or the previous post’s positive change character arc.
Next week we’ll dive into the flat character arc. It may sound boring at first, but some of your favorite movies and novels may prove to have a flat character arc. Thank you for reading, and if you have any comments or questions, add them to the comments below, or message me via my contact page.
As always, stay fresh, my nugs.
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