Literary Term: Character Arc

Literary Term: Character Arc


A character arc includes the changes and growth a character has throughout a story – written or on screen. When students struggle to understand this with literature, sometimes it helps to bring in a pop culture reference.

Teaching character arc? Start with a familiar character, such as superheroes.

Superheroes have massive character arcs. Some students read comic books and others are more familiar with movies. Either way, you can teach the literary term ‘character arc’ through a student’s beloved superhero.

For instance, I love Batman and its villains, and will still pick up a comic book if it is around. Part of my fascination is that a small boy saw a brutal murder and formed a new identity to rid the world of hurtful people.

However, my favorite is Superman, aka Clark Kent; his character arc extends more than Bruce Wayne’s. He’s a journalist, he loves Lois Lane, and he’s a bit dorky. I’m smitten.

What is his character arc though?

Superman is from the destroyed planet Krypton. His scientist father sent him to Earth, and he is raised in Kansas. His adoptive parents raised him with strong morals which later influenced him as Superman. He worked as a reporter at the Daily Planet, alongside Lois Lane.

Superman worked to follow his morals, but conflicts forced internal conflict with the best course of action. He did not alter the world even though he could – with the exception of turning time backwards to save Lois Lane. He also fights with Lex Luthor, who he never kills, even though he obviously could.

Depending on what show you see or what story you read, you will see a different character arc for Superman. Discussing how the character arc is created by different writers can be part of a classroom discussion.

Lesson plan ideas for teaching 'character arc.'

If you¬†have non-superhero fanatics, what about Beast from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”? When we meet him, he is a recluse and in flashbacks we learn he was cruel and arrogant. He changes throughout the movie and finally puts others ahead of himself. What forces his personality changes? Is his character arc a complete curve or does it stagnate at times?

Students interested in comic book characters will understand the literary term character arc once they see it applied to a beloved character. Thinking of characters from youthful movies will provide suitable examples as well. Then it will be easier to teach ‘character arc’ in regard to literature.

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