The Positive Change Arc ends in a positive way for your protagonist
Screenwriting Techniques

3 Types of Character Arcs – How To Write The Positive Change Arc

I’m sure you’ve all heard phrases like “Character Arc” or Positive Change Arc etc. And some of you may also wonder what is all this about. Well, before I dive in this subject I would like first to talk about the essence of the Character Arcs: The Change.

Films, just like real life, are all about change. Which means that, since nothing stays the same forever in real life, nothing should stay the same in a film. Therefore, change is the main ingredient of movies.
Imagine a film or a story that nothing ever changes. Well, that would be totally boring. However, even though we do know that change is part of our lives, most people don’t welcome changes when they come. In fact, most people are afraid of changes. Because, change can be really intimidating and that’s why the way we react to changes, can be a complete story, an entire journey.

Moreover, people don’t change overnight. So, a character in a film shouldn’t change in just one moment, it has to become gradually. But those inner journeys towards change, make the most wonderful, the most interesting stories. That’s why, each protagonist has an inner journey, during the film. We call this inner journey a character’s arc (character arc) and is based in the hero’s beliefs. There are 3 types of Character Arcs. Today, we’ll find out how to write the first type: the Positive Change Arc.

3 Types of Character Arc

The three main categories of character arcs are:

1) The positive change arc

2) The negative change arc

3) The flat arc

We will analyze each of them separately, but we should keep in mind that all three arcs are about change. The first two are about the hero’s inner change, while the third is about society’s change.

The positive change arc – Character Arc

Character Arcs signify that it is time for change for our Protagonist
Character Arcs signify that it is time for change for our Protagonist
Image by Here and now, unfortunately, ends my journey on Pixabay from Pixabay

The most common type of Character Arc is the Positive Change Arc. In the positive change arc, our protagonist changes in a positive way for him/her. That means, that our protagonist begins the story with a false belief. That doesn’t mean that our protagonist is necessarily a “bad guy”, only that his belief system is probably too narrow minded or too rigid and it’s not helpful at all to achieve his/her goal. This false belief is called “The lie”.

The Lie

The Change Arc is all about the Lie that Your Character Believes.

As novelist K.M. Weiland explains in her book Creating Character Arcs “In order for your character to evolve in a positive way, he has to start out with something lacking in his life, some reason that makes the change necessary. He is incomplete in some way, but not because he is lacking something external. […] Your character is incomplete on the inside. He is harboring some deeply held misconception about either himself, the world, or probably both”.

The Lie and the Truth in Character Arcs

This misconception is going to be an obstacle to our protagonist’s ability to fulfill his/her dream.
So, our protagonist begins his/her journey by believing into a Lie
However, by the end of the story, in the positive change arc, our protagonist will understand her misconception and eventually find out the truth, which is the exact opposite of the lie she used to believe.

The lie can be usually stated in one short sentence.

How to find the Lie?

Go at the end of your story and try to think what your protagonist changes here in order to get her goal. What does she do differently? This is almost always the outcome of a realization. The protagonist realizes that her belief system was all wrong.

For example, let’s say that the protagonist realizes that cooperation is a good thing. Then, go at the beginning of the film and make your protagonist a character that she doesn’t want other people’s help. And that would be her lie: “I can do everything by myself”.

The Want, The Need and the Lie

Now, remember that we always say that a character has something that Wants and something that Needs?

The want is something very specific. Our protagonist might want to win this girl or boy or want this job or that trophy etc. but all of these as good as they may seem it’s not what our protagonist really needs in a deeper level. On the other hand, the Need is not something physical. For the most of the journey the need is mostly subconscious to the hero. It is actually a realization that our protagonist must have near the end of the story.

That’s the realization we’ve been talking about. But what do all these have to do with the Lie? How the Want and the Need are connected to the Lie that our Protagonist believes in the beginning of our story?

The Want

The Want is something that usually seems to support the lie.

The protagonist either:

  • wants the wrong thing or
  • his/her moral methods to get it are wrong.

Either way, the protagonist needs to change his/her priorities.

The Need

The opposite of the Lie is the Truth. That’s the Need of our character. It’s the thing that our protagonist will realize in the end of the journey. So, that’s the change that our hero must have.

The truth that a Character will find out is connected to his/her need and to the Theme of your story. If you don’t remember what theme is you can find out here.

Example from Movies with Positive Character Arc

Let’s see some examples of LIES from movies with positive change arcs and check what are the WANTS and the NEEDS of the protagonists and how those are connected to the Lies they believe.


Michael Dorsey is a good actor with a bad temper, so he can’t find a job for a long time. When he hears of an opening in a soap opera he impersonates a woman, under the name Dorothy Michaels, and gets the part. 

In Tootsie Michael's lie is that it's ok to lie to women.

Want: To get a part as an actor and raise 8.000

Need: To learn to respect women

Lie: It’s ok to lie to women, no harm done

Truth: He should treat women with respect (all men should)

Michael’s want is to get an acting part, but the means he uses to get the part are wrong. Because he impersonates a woman, he lies to everyone, he pretends to be a feminist but he actually “steals” this job from some other woman. However, he doesn’t think he does anything wrong by telling so many lies, especially to women, and using other women to succeed his goal. So, his lie supports his method to get his want.

Nevertheless, what Michael needs is to start treating women with respect. By being in women’s shoes for some time, he realises what he has done wrong and he tries to make it correct. In the end Michael realises the truth, which is that he should treat women with more respect. This is summarised in his final words to Julie (his love interest): “I was a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man.”

Jurassic Park

The hero Dr. Alan Grant is a paleontologist who loves dinosaurs but doesn’t get along with children. In a way, we could say that symbolically he prefers the past to the future.

In Jurassic Park, Alan's lie is that he hates kids, because they aren't worth the fuss

Want: To study dinosaurs

Need: To connect with children and with the future

Lie: I hate kids, they aren’t worth the fuss

Truth: Kids are the planet’s future, we should protect them

Alan’s want focuses in the past, in dinosaurs. That’s not right or wrong, but his method to get his goal is wrong. Because Alan rejects kids in order to pay his full attention to dinosaurs. Allegorically, he rejects the future over the past.
So the want and the lie support each other, to continue living his life in the way he had until now. Alan is so focused in the past, that he seems to forget completely of the future. He doesn’t get along with children, neither with computers. However, he should understand that the planet’s future are kids and that’s why he should protect them. In this way, he will fulfil his need which is to connect with children and the future and to become a father figure.

Check the relevant episode about Positive Change Character Arc!


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