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Transformational Character Arcs: Part 10 - Recap

By The Unknown Screenwriter

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Previous Article in series.

Stick a fork in it!

Whew... I was starting to think that I'd never finish this series but I think I've pretty much covered everything you need to get you started on creating a transformational character arc for your Protagonist.

If you don't believe this is important to your story and your screenplay, no problem... I tend to think this happens to be what's wrong with most screenplays today.

So last but definitely not least, let's go over the series and see if we can make just a little more sense out of all this garbage...

Transformational Character Arc

We first talked about the importance of your Protagonist undergoing a transformational character arc. Most screenwriters like to use the phrase, "character arc" but I like "transformational character arc instead because the more I think of my Protagonist's journey this way, the more I am hyper aware that I want him or her to be transformed by the end of the story.

Saying it and THINKING IT somehow keeps me writing TOWARD it.

Make sense?

Something else that's been discussed in the comments and that I've hit on within the series a bit is how I personally like to slide the transformational character arc in under the radar instead of hitting the reader (and hopefully and audience) over the head with the transformation.

Again, my thinking here after watching THOUSANDS of movies and taking them apart piece by piece is that the movies where the Protagonist's transformational character arc is not nearly as obvious by the end of the story are the movies that resonate with ME the most. Again, simply my perspective and many will probably have a different take on it.

Ultimately, YOU gots to do what YOU gots to do.

I would also say that if you walk away from this series and this blog with absolutely NOTHING ELSE... Walk away with this: Give your Protagonist a transformational character arc. We, the audience WANT to get on board the character train. We want to enjoy the ride. We want to ponder out the windows. We want to walk around the train, feel it moving. We want the experience. We want to eventually get off the train and remember the train ride so please give it to us!

Transforming your Protagonist by the end of the story gives us, the audience, hope that we too can overcome adversity. That we too can conquer the obstacles that keep getting in front of us in our daily lives. That we too can eventually transform into a new and improved human being.

Consider your Protagonist's motivation as you weave your story. This motivation is perhaps, the main key to your Protagonist wanting to somehow become a better person by the end of the story. And remember, somehow becoming a better person depends on YOUR truth which should also be your Protagonist's truth. What YOU BELIEVE about LIFE.

Your Protagonist may start out going after what they want but consider making them discover what they truly NEED as part of your story's structure.

Two goals: OUTER and INNER.

Outer is what they want. The tangible goal that we can SEE them attain and by so doing, they simultaneously achieve the inner goal of what they NEED to become a better person. Don't worry about trying to develop your characters in the first act. If you do this, you can often end up writing predictable stuff. Let us keep discovering new things about your Protagonist as he or she travels through your story.

Using your Protagonist's emotional reaction to action i.e., their decision making and resulting action and dialogue are your tools to help us discover more and more about your Protagonist as they climb up hell mountain.

Try to define your Protagonist as much as you can before you start writing... Character bios. Backstory. Personality types and character traits. Do whatever works for you to really know your characters. The better you know your characters, the more apt they are to whisper in your ear as you write.

Make your characters REAL to YOU and you'll go far in making them real to us. You should know your characters at least as well as you know a member of your family or a close friend.

Personality Types

This can give you a starting point with your Protagonist. Most likely, you already know enough about your Protagonist to find out which personality type they fit into... Cool. Give us MORE! Knowing your Protagonist's personality type can help you create a quintessential character out of him or her and keep their emotional reactions to actions consistent with their character and no... That doesn't mean make them predictable.

Character Traits

We then delved a little into the character traits of the 23 personality types. Just enough information to get you started so you kinda have an idea where to take your characters when it comes to behavior.

Hyper Real Characters

We then discussed giving characters dimension and making them multi-dimensional by knowing their personality type and character traits. Again, just enough to get you started on your own journey of discovery. Seek out more information. Invest in a book or two that go into the subject with even more depth. How many times can I say it? The better you know your characters, the better your story is going to be.

Protagonist's Decision-Making Process

We talked about your Protagonist's emotional reaction to action and how it works. Your Protagonist's ACTION and DIALOGUE should drive your plot instead of your plot driving your Protagonist. Because your Protagonist's motivation i.e., they want, need, and desire something both OUTER and INNER; they move or ACT through your story via ACTION and DIALOGUE.

Your Protagonist's emotional reaction to action is the beginning, middle, and end of the transformational character arc. He or she comes across an obstacle that you've thrown at them which causes them to make a decision which causes them to act and that act should reveal a little more about them as a person. Their action as a result of their decisions throughout your story are those layers you often hear about that you should be continuously PEELING back for us.

The Fatal Flaw

We discussed your Protagonist's FATAL FLAW and how to use this flaw to lead your Protagonist through to his or her transformational character arc.


We then covered using a theme to guide your Protagonist to emotional growth as a new being using your TRUTH about LIFE as the "inner light" at the end of the Protagonist's tunnel. It's what your screenplay is ULTIMATELY ABOUT.

Exposure Therapy

Finally we talked about using exposure therapy on your Protagonist to eventually get him or her over their greatest fear and become TRANSFORMED.

Parting Words...

I hope this series has made you realize how important the Transformational Character Arc is to your story and ultimate screenplay. I hope you understand that OFTEN, it is this element and the way you ultimately handle it that can make or break your spec when it finally comes to the marketing.

Remember, this is just the way I do things. I don't claim to be an expert... Hell, I learn something new every day and I often change my way of thinking as I learn new things. Sometimes I'll read an article and change my opinion -- sometimes I simply watch a movie that changes my opinion but it's always just MY OPINION so take that for what it's worth and more importantly, come up with YOUR OWN OPINION!

Read articles. Scour the web. Go back to your screenwriting books and re-read the parts about giving your Protagonist a character arc. The more familiar you are with this story element, the better your screenwriting is going to be. And as if you didn't already have enough to read, I recently found several articles about the Kubler-Ross Model. It talks about the 5 Stages of Grief or what is known as the Grief Cycle: The above articles don't have anything to do with screenwriting per se but I think they definitely apply to the Transformational Character Arc series so definitely check them out.

It's interesting to note that your Protagonist goes through a similar if not identical transformation cycle... or SHOULD! In my opinion, the most important aspect of these articles are the actual 5 Stages of Grief.

Prior to the cycle, you have a normal-functioning person. Then, something happens that throws their world out of whack. They now begin the cycle:

Stage 1: Shock and Denial

  • Avoidance
  • Confusion
  • Fear
  • Numbness
  • Blame

Stage 2: Anger

  • Frustration
  • Anxiety
  • Irritation
  • Embarrassment
  • Shame

Stage 3: Depression and Detachment

  • Overwhelmed
  • Blahs
  • Lack of energy
  • Helplessness

Stage 4: Dialogue and Bargaining

  • Reaching out to others
  • Desire to tell one's story
  • Struggle to find meaning for what has happened

Stage 5: Acceptance

  • Exploring options
  • A new plan in place
With the cycle now complete, this person returns to a meaningful life having been TRANSFORMED and experiences the following:
  • Empowerment
  • Security
  • Self-esteem
  • Meaning
If you'll notice, you could ALMOST structure an entire screenplay based on these 5 stages and while I'm not advocating exactly that, I'm almost positive that by learning just a little more about this model you'll go a long way toward creating believable characters and have your Protagonist TRANSFORMED by the end of your story...

Food for thought.

About The Unknown Screenwriter

A working screenwriter and producer, The Unknown Screenwriter makes his home in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California and somewhere in the state of New Mexico with just a little bit of Los Angeles thrown in when he feels he can breathe the air.

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