Character Arc Worksheet – Jericho Writers
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Character Arc Worksheet: Free Template For Authors

Establishing and developing interesting characters is essential when writing a book. But readers don’t just want to know who your characters are, they also want to see how they progress.

The difference between how a character is at the start of a book and how they are at the end of it is something your readers will pay close attention to. It’s often one of the things people remember most about a story.

So how do you create a powerful character arc that is so interesting it makes your protagonist, and, by extension, your book, deeply memorable? By using our FREE handy character arc worksheet.

What Is A Character Arc?

A character arc is a term used to describe the difference between who your character was at the start of your story, and who they are at its conclusion.

Each of your characters will be pursuing a certain goal, and what they want- and why they want it- should be made clear to the reader so that they can root for the character’s success. This goal is what informs each character’s arc, and your protagonist’s goal informs the entire plot.

Readers need to be invested in the main characters in a novel in order for it to make an impact on them, as that way every reaction they have to the events of your story will be heightened, as they’re happening to characters that they care deeply about.

Arcs can vary in many ways, from solving a crime to saving the world, or seeking redemption. Often when characters’ goals contradict one another, this is what creates some of the central conflicts in the story, and establishes said characters as the protagonist and antagonist.

It is these obstacles that fundamentally change characters, as it requires skill to overcome them. Characters who face challenges have more opportunities for growth, thus strengthening their arcs and the novel as a whole.

Readers care about characters, and want things to work out for them- unless they’re villains, but even then they can evoke sympathy on occasion.

An arc marks your protagonist’s journey from someone who’s a little lost and struggling, to someone who has conquered their fears or achieved something delightfully unexpected.


Types Of Character Arcs

There are several different types of arcs, but all of them tend to follow a similar pattern; they relate to the peaks and valleys of the three-act structure.

Character Arcs And The Three-Act Structure

The progression of a character arc usually aligns with the traditional three-act structure which frequents most storytelling and is useful whether you’re writing your first novel or your fifteenth.

Act One

The first act (and part of the arc) establishes the character in detail, and then the inciting incident turns their life upside down.

They throw all their energy at solving the problem that has recently arisen (they’ve been fired from their job, they have to solve a murder, the love of their life just left them at the alter), determine to achieve their goal.

But, inevitably, they end up failing every time they think they’ve come up with a solution, or they solve one small problem, only to find that more, much more challenging problems await them. This leads us on to the next act.

Act Two

The second act/part of the arc shows your character developing, as the world around them shifts and twists, and they respond to those changes.

As your character begins to change, they will also respond to the changes in themselves. So if your protagonist discovers that they have a knack for analysing crime scenes and figuring out the angle from which a gun was shot, despite having zero experience in forensics. That may come as a surprise to them and be something which requires some processing.

It’s important to remember that your characters aren’t just reacting to action and plot points (they’ve been offered an interview for the job of a lifetime, a new witness in a murder case has just come forward, their ex has just moved back to town). But they are also reacting to their own thoughts and behaviours which arise in response to them.

Act Three

The third act, and final part of the arc, highlight the bigger changes that have arisen in your character as they deal with the events of the climax of the book.

They begin to decide whether they like the ways in which they, and their world, have changed and reflect on the extent to which they achieved their main goal.

This is especially evident in adventure stories, when characters have gone on long quests, where they slayed dragons and discovered gold, and then return home to discover that, though they’ve changed, nothing else has.

The changes your characters undergo need to be plausible.

It doesn’t matter if that means they went from being so shy they could hardly have any eye contact with strangers, to holding a conversation for a minute or two and then quietly leaving, or whether they change in a more dramatic way. The changes just need to fit in the realm of each character’s life.

There are also many different types of arcs to consider, all of which you can keep track of with our character arc worksheet.

Flat Character Arc

What Is A Flat Character Arc?

A flat character arc is one where the character largely remains the same; they don’t gain significant strength or awareness, and nor do they experience a harrowing fall from grace. They occur most often in genre fiction- such as crime and thrillers- wherein the lead detective is private and extremely skilled at the start and remains that way as the story comes to a close.

However, many books are becoming much more nuanced, and feature arcs where the detective begins to heal some wounds from their childhood while solving a case which involves a vulnerable child, or the victim of an attack starts teaching self-defence.

Exploring Flat Character Arcs

Even with a flat arc, there needs to be some element of change in order for the reader to stay engaged. No one likes reading (or writing) about characters who are completely static.

Often, when flat character arcs are used, some shifts within the character’s development are still included. For instance, you may write a protagonist who doubts whether they will be able to achieve their main goal, and believes that they’re not as competent as people think they are.

This adds tension in a more subtle way, as the reader is still unsure whether things will work out well, yet the character remains the same capable figure both at the beginning and end of the story.

Examples of flat arcs are:

  • Sherlock from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings

Positive Character Arc

What Is A Positive Character Arc?

A positive character arc is the most common type of arc, and the one that typically comes to mind when you think of character development.

This is when your character overcomes a myriad of obstacles, and ends the novel heroic and triumphant. Sometimes these arcs are more subtle (for instance, if your main character has overcome one or two minor obstacles) and others they’re much more pronounced (such as in action/adventure books which are more dramatic, as characters often get lost several times, encounter many villains, and suffer one or two near-death experiences).

Exploring Positive Character Arcs

The type of character your protagonist is at the start also affects the nuance within their arc. If they are a little self-deprecating and underestimate their abilities, but gradually realise that they’re very capable and gifted, and go on to find the murderer/fulfil the prophecy/get their happily-ever-after through their hard work and determination, then this is an important, but smaller arc.

If, however, they begin as a cruel, grumpy, frequently disliked character, but end up saving the day for the greater good and becoming kind and approachable, this is a much more substantial change, and thus results in a steeper character arc.

As aforementioned, there are multiple books which feature positive character arcs (the main character starts out feeling discontent and dealing with an internal struggle, but through a series of trials and struggles, they stumble upon an important truth, and overcome their struggle and other conflicts), meaning it’s highly likely that you’ll find at least one in any book you stumble across. These arcs of redemption, growth, and success, leave the reader feeling almost as happy as the protagonist is, which is why they’re so popular.

Examples of positive arcs are:

  • Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol
  • Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice
  • Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

These characters all grow and develop, but they don’t undergo a complete transformation.

Transformational Arcs

A variant of the positive character arc is the transformational arc. This is when, as the name suggests, the character undergoes a significant transformation, and becomes the kind of hero which is strongly associated with epics and the hero’s journey structure.

They face many obstacles, but end up triumphant, having conquered their enemies and achieved their goal. This arc type is sometimes referred to as a particularly strong or extreme positive character arc.

Examples of transformational arcs are often found in fantasy and action/adventure books, such as:

  • Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games series
  • Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series
  • Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit

At the start of the story, these characters are aware that they face major obstacles, and they are greatly daunted by them. But as the story progresses, they gain confidence in their own abilities, utilise the support of their comrades, and collect a series of increasingly difficult- and often hard-won- victories.

Negative Character Arc

What Is A Negative Arc?

A negative character arc is when a character makes a series of bad decisions, resulting in them ending the story in a far worse position than the one they started in.

This may happen with characters who go from bad to worse (they start off rude and combative, and end up an evil murderer), or characters who go from decent to horrible (they start off as an everyday person, but something bad happens and they react by becoming cruel and volatile).

This arc is often the typical arc for an antagonist and can depict the development of a villain’s origin story as it often establishes why they become mean and how long it takes for this change to occur.

Exploring Negative Character Arcs

Negative arcs are important, as no one goes from being the nice, friendly neighbour to a menacing serial killer overnight for no reason at all.

If you want your readers to be engaged with your novel, they need to understand your characters, even if they don’t like them or agree with their reasoning.

These arcs can end in a myriad of ways but, as the name suggests, none of them are positive or pleasant. The characters themselves have often reached the peak of their cruelty, and ruined their own lives and potentially those of others too. They won’t have experienced any redemption, growth, or salvation.

Depending on what the character was initially like, they may be unrecognisable from the person they were at the start of the story/arc, or they may have just become a more sinister version of their former self.

Examples of negative arcs are:

  • Dorian Gray in The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Michael Corleone in The Godfather
  • Hamlet in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

These characters go from unlikeable/bad to downright terrible throughout the course of their arcs, greatly appeasing those readers who love to loathe certain characters.

Why Is A Character Arc Worksheet Useful?

Your characters ground your novel, and your readers will be paying attention to their every nuance. So what matters most is not so much which type of character arc you use for each of your main characters, but why you choose them, and whether they seem plausible.

There’s a lot to keep track of when you’re writing a book; each and every plot point, the themes of the story, plot twists, character development, preventing plot holes, and so on. With our character arc worksheet, you have one less thing to keep track of.

We’ve done the work for you, so all you have to do is fill in the worksheet, and keep it to hand as you write so you can quickly refer back to it as needed.

Character Arcs And Conflict

Most character arcs arise from conflict of some kind; internal or external, and with varying degrees of severity. This conflict is part of what makes your story so interesting.

There are many different types of conflict for you to explore.

Human Vs Human

This is your classic conflict between antagonist and protagonist, and often drives the majority of the story. There may be moments where it’s less prominent, and others where it’s part of a major plot point (a fight scene, a betrayal, the end of a friendship).

Regardless, no one likes reading a novel where every single one of the characters get along 100% of the time. That’s where this type of conflict comes in.

Human Vs Nature

This conflict truly is a tale as old as time.

This is when a character- or characters- are primarily battling the environment, the terrain, or the weather (the sea, a big storm, the difficulty of obtaining water in a derelict desert) or even an animal. If the characters are in a challenging environment for a long period of time- if a story takes place on a boat at sea, for example- then this can be an ongoing conflict, which rises in intensity and then abates several times over the course of the novel.

Human Vs Self

This type of conflict is most often referred to as internal conflict.

While this is often the focus in specific genres, such as literary fiction, it’s usually found in most books, just to varying degrees. As aforementioned, many positive and transformational arcs depict characters who initially question their abilities, and it’s only once they realise that they have the skill set required to defeat the monster and save the day that they achieve success.

Thus, in resolving their primary internal conflict, and battling themselves, they are then able to resolve the immediate, potentially life-threatening external conflict too.

How To Create A Character Arc

So, now you know what a character arc is, and how they’re shaped, all that’s left to do is create character arcs of your own for the characters in your story.

That’s the hard part.

But don’t worry, our character arc template makes this process almost ridiculously simple. All you have to do is download it, and then start filling it in at your own pace. Easy!

If you’re not sure where to start, consider what the arc would like for a specific moment in your own life, and try using that as a starting point.

Some of the main things to consider when crafting your character arcs are:

  • Your character’s motivations
  • The obstacles preventing them from reaching their goal
  • The role their personal flaws and inner conflicts have in their struggle to achieve their goal
  • What actions they will take to achieve their goal
  • How you want them to end up in regards to their growth (or lack thereof)
  • Success (or lack thereof)

Creating A Powerful Character Arc

Creating well-crafted characters can be tricky.

You need to know the characters in your story so well that they almost feel like real people. But that can take time. Don’t rush it. You’ll get there in the end.

And with our character arc template, you’ll have unique, compelling characters in no time.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Structure A Character Arc?

The structure of your character arc will be primarily determined by the structure of your story itself, and the details of your plot.

Plus, the genre in which you are writing will influence the kind of structures you find yourself working in. There are so many writers and just as many arcs for them to write.

But generally, you start your character arc by establishing who your character is as a person and what their goals are. Then you reveal any internal struggles they may have and inform the reader of the main obstacles which may prevent them from achieving their main goal.

At around this stage, you will also consider the role of other characters, and decide who their allies and enemies are, and the extent to which they help your main character progress or hinder their progression.

Next, your character will wholeheartedly commit themselves to a specific plan that they are certain will be the one to finally help them reach success, so it’s key to decide what this plan is and how it will work out.

After that, consider how you want to bring the character’s internal and external sources of conflict to a head, the extent to which they will resolve themselves, and how you want your character to end up (have they grown, become more sinister, gained self-confidence etc).

How Do You Start A Character Arc?

An arc will typically start with the inciting incident which establishes the story, the stakes, and your character’s central conflict. From there, your arc can go in whichever direction you choose, depending on the type of character you’re creating, and the kind of story you want to tell.

Do All Characters Need An Arc?

Character arcs are often thought of as very dramatic depictions of a character’s triumphs and pitfalls, but that’s not always the case.

It may be that you choose to employ a flat arc for your character, wherein they mainly remain the same. So they may start the story as an enthusiastic nursery teacher, and end the story the same way. Only now, they know that they’re really good at their job and are making a difference in the world, even if they can’t always see it. Whereas before they thought they needed to have a job which was more important in society’s eyes in order to truly matter.

Things may have not changed for them much on the outside, but there has been a significant change internally.

No reader wants to read a story where every single character stays exactly the same from beginning to end, so all of your characters need an arc of some sort. However, these arcs can vary in intensity, and you can definitely use a few flat arcs in your story if you want to.