The Destructive Character Arcs


Last week we went over the flat character arc. That’s when the character doesn’t go through a massive change because their truth guides them in changing the world around them. Some examples of the flat arc are Diana from Wonder Woman, Colonel Quaritch from Avatar, and Sherlock Holmes. The flat character arc is great for stories where you want to show the effects of one person sticking to their belief throughout the story.


The destructive character arc follows a character along a decaying arc toward destruction of self or those nearby.

Most Common Appearances:

You’ll most likely see the destructive character arc opposite the protagonist’s positive change arc. Some of the most popular characters include Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars, Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby, and Octavia Blake from The 100. Within these appearances, we have three branches of the destructive character arc.

The Corruption Arc:

The Corruption Arc follows a character who begins good, or is not too bad, and follows them into their demise. They begin with a belief that benefits them and those around them, but as the story goes on, they find they can’t hold to that belief and often find another, more tantalizing belief. Then they latch onto that more desirable belief and forget any teachings or known truths from before. Many times, the corruption arc leads to death, loss of functionality, or being locked away.

(Beginning) Anakin Skywalker is a great example of the corruption arc. He begins in Star Wars Episode I as a young boy with good intent. It works so well to start here because the innocence of a child contrasts the destroyed heap of a man in Star Wars Episode III. The trilogy structure of the Star Wars movies aids in studying the character arc. Anakin begins his story with a truth that he believes about the Jedi Order is meant for good. Though he’s a young boy working through his painful past, he trains with Qui Gon Jinn until Obi Wan Kenobi takes over. Anakin’s true downward arc starts when he finds his mother dead from the Tusken Raiders. In this moment, he gives into the anger he’s been denying since his childhood. He kills everyone he can of the Tusken people. (Middle) Anakin takes another step toward the dark side (his destruction) when he beheads Count Dooku, which violates the Jedi Code. This breaking of the original truth offers a vacuum that needs to be filled by another truth. His new truth becomes that he must do whatever he can to save his wife from death. Which he completes the horrific killing of all Jedi. (End) Destroying the life he knew, he’s left to face his former master, in which he loses and it costs the loss of his limbs and any identity with himself.

The Disillusionment Arc:

The Disillusionment Arc addresses a change in perspective. Your character begins with one belief, but through the story discovers their beliefs weren’t facts. Heroes are only average men and women. Your parents aren’t the gods and goddesses you thought they were as a kid. Being an adult isn’t as fun as we thought it would be.

In The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway moves to a small home near the famous Mr. Gatsby. (Beginning) As he observes his surroundings, he sees Mr. Gatsby’s home and the lavish parties he throws. He sees the other side of the lake exclusive to those who live the “high life”. As Gatsby brings Nick into his life a little at a time, he enjoys the highlights of the lavish life. The parties, the interesting people, and the time with his own fling. This is a holding to the truth. He believes that all the interesting things happen on the other side of the lake. (Middle) After Nick agrees to help Gatsby reunite with Daisy, Nick’s cousin, he sees the cracks in Gatsby’s façade. Then the decay in Daisy’s relationship with her husband decays as both are cheating on each other and lying. Nick is baffled, but he doesn’t intervene because it’s not his relationship to interfere with. (End) After the first climax occurs, where myrtle is killed, the true undoing of all the images Nick held of the elite fall apart. And it isn’t until Gatsby’s funeral that he realizes the high society life is temporary and follows the saying of here today and gone tomorrow.

The Fall Arc

While this may overlap with either of the above arcs, I think the fall arc operates on its own. The fall arc shows someone starting high and ending low. The highs and lows can reference societal standing, opinion, ranks in government/military/companies, etc. The true defining moments are the decay of the characters into exactly what they never wanted to become.

In season 5 of The 100, Octavia becomes the very thing she despised in Clark. (If you haven’t watched The 100 yet, I’ll try to keep spoilers out of this as much as possible.) (Beginning) Octavia begins with a belief that her brother is threatening wonkru. The lie grows in holding as other’s side with her belief and a clear division separates the survivors of the latest disaster. While the season cuts forward six years, the flashbacks show the progression of Octavia’s fall from who she wanted to be. Octavia began this part of the story wanting to save as many as possible, but as time goes on and the struggle to survive increases, hard decisions must be made. (Middle) When people are killed through an attempted coup Octavia decides the punishment, a fight to the death. This action brings the people together as if they watched gladiators in a coliseum. (End) We find Octavia ruling over her people as they fight to the death for entertainment and superiority. Octavia’s actions, and those of others, have driven them to desperate actions and none want to admit to the experiences stuck underground.

Previous: The Flat Character Arc

Next: Researching Your Character

2 thoughts on “The Destructive Character Arcs

  1. Pingback: The Flat Character Arc – Myers Fiction

  2. Pingback: Researching Your Character – Myers Fiction

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