by Jennifer Bozell
As you develop your characters for your script, don’t neglect the development of a character arc. Every well written script should have at least one character who undergoes a metamorphosis throughout the script. His attitude should change, or his behavior should change over the course of the script as he learns a major lesson.
Writers sometimes think character arcs are only necessary for serious dramas. Wrong! Even silly comedies need to have them for their main characters. Think of the family Christmas classic “Home Alone.” At the movie’s beginning, Macaulay Culkin’s character Kevin grumpily wishes his family would go away, as they plan for their holiday trip. Then, he inadvertently gets his wish, as his family accidentally leaves town without him. But over the course defending his home from the bad guys who try to rob it, Kevin comes to realize he misses his family and does value them. As such, he evolves from a bratty little kid to one who is grateful to have a loving family in his life.
Here’s one way to break it down: The character arc is affected by the character’s main plot and sub-plot goals. At the film’s start, the character is focused on the main plot goal they think they want, and work throughout the movie to achieve. In the case of “Home Alone,” Kevin is at first consumed by celebrating his newfound freedom, and then defending his home when it comes under attack from the would-be robbers. But by the end of the film, the main character is more concerned with the sub-plot
goal that he unknowingly really wanted all along. By this point, the main character ends up with what he needs, as opposed to what he wants. Kevin thought freedom from his family would bring him happiness, but when his family comes home at the end, that is what truly brings him joy, and he has learned his lesson.
So ultimately, the unconscious goal of the character becomes more important than his conscious goal. Because of this, his attitude or behavior changes. And that’s a good arc.