A "character arc" represents the changes in the character in different parts of the story. That is, how the impact of story events brings about changes in the character.

A "character development" is a description of a character at a point in time. That's a helpful thing to have, all other things being equal. My big fear is "that much" character development (at one particular time) will fix the character in that time period, and inhibit changes (or at least the audience perception of those changes) during the course of the story.

So are readers/viwers more interested in "character development" (background details of a character), or "character arc" (how the character changes). Put another way, which do you prioritize if they come into conflict, and how do you reconcile the two?

3 Answers 3


How can a reader tell that a character's changed (in their character arc) if you don't show what the character was like before (character development, by your definition)?

Therefore, I believe that the two are interconnected. You cannot show the arc very well if you haven't shown the development.

What it sounds like you are afraid of is that there's a disconnect between the change and what they were and that will be confusing to the reader. What you must do is SHOW or tell if you must, the reason for the change.

Characters are who they are. When they change an aspect of their behavior, it needs to be clear as to why. It isn't a conflict and one is not more important than the other. When it becomes jolting is when they are suddenly acting totally differently than they have previously. It's up to you, as the author to either show or explain the change. The change can be temporary or permanent...

That's how you reconcile the two.


Both things are very important and can be very interesting. And if you look around, best examples of world literature (From "War and Piece" to "Lord of the Rings") are dealing with this problem. Protagonist(s) at the beginning of a story is not the same as at the end of it. Journey changes the person.

How to do it the best? That's a good question. In my opinion, one good approach is to expose your character to similar situations throughout the arc, and see how his/her reaction is changing over time.


A character arc is not a required component of a story. It is a popular component of a certain type of story but the belief that you need to include an arc is a severely limiting factor.

Generally speaking people do not change. The writer reveals the character of a character by showing his reaction to challenge and circumstance.

A person who went on a journey, faced challenges along the way, but ultimately became a better person for it is a "Disney" plot.

A character arc is unimportant.

Your description of character development is strange to me. To provide an in depth characterisation of a character at any point in time would require a massive and tedious infodump. We reveal character scene by scene, and it shouldn't necessarily be a conscious thing. We don't write scenes for scene's sake. If we include a scene where the character gets up, makes breakfast and goes to work we likely SHOWING you the character (1) Lives alone (2) Is a vegetarian (3) Has a job.

Character development / building is more accurately described as character revelation. When he goes to him mother's house for Sunday dinner we discover he has two sisters and an absent father.

Character development is essential (Unless your main character is Dr Spock or Lassie).

  • +1 for "Character development / building is more accurately described as character revelation. "
    – Tom Au
    Jun 19, 2017 at 9:37
  • 1
    "Generally speaking people do not change". Do you maybe want to reconsider this statement? Everybody changes, constantly, and while it is rare that people turn into the exact opposite of what they were before, they are able to change quite drastically. Everything else would be very sad news for addicts or generally every person who ever was unhappy with his or her life.
    – Filip
    Jun 20, 2017 at 14:27
  • Additionally, I strongly disagree with your "Disney plot" definition. The way you use the word implies that you consider "Disney plots" to be shallow and artificial. But what, on the other hand, am I to take away from a story that ends pretty much the way it started? What would I discover in such a story? While the change in a character must not necessarily be the driving change of a story -- changing societal perceptions are a nice alternative, for example --, the story does need change, and since stories are told via characters, they are the most likely target for change.
    – Filip
    Jun 20, 2017 at 14:31
  • No, I do not want to reconsider the statement. There are very few politicians or voter who switch from Republican to Democrat or vice-vera. There is a question on the site about 'childish writing' - fantasy readers and writers are considered by us normal people as 'childish'. When you were a child you had the facility for change - Adults don't change. You are unlikely to switch from Christian to Muslim - or vice-versa . . . But, hey, if you did - maybe it's be worth writing a story about you. btw - Yes, I consider "Disney" plots shallow and artificial.
    – Surtsey
    Jun 20, 2017 at 14:41
  • While there might be very few that do change from Democrat to Republican (Ronald Reagan did) it's certainly interesting. It's not usual. It's remarkable. And I like to read stories about remarkable people. Maybe you want to read a story about ordinary things likely to happen to your next door neighbor. I would rather read a story about extraordinary things that are unlikely to happen to my next door neighbor. To each their own. I have an ordinary life, I'm sure. Why on earth would I want to read about it? Jun 20, 2017 at 15:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.