Changing is an important aspect of every character and is what makes them believable. Yet, if you remember the ending of Game of Thrones,

people weren't too happy about Dany going from "don't want to be the queen of ashes" to The 1666 Great Fire of London.

Don't get me wrong, as an outsider, I was laughing and stuffing my mouth with Stardust Crusaders Season 2.

Regardless, a vast majority of people screamed

"This isn't Dany!" or "This isn't my Dany"

Though it's unlikely for such extreme examples to occur, it does pose the question of how can you change or even make a character do a complete heel-face turn without feeling "out of character" for them. And there's also the question of separating fluctuations, where a person makes a decision based on the natural equivalent of RNG, and character breaking moments.

You could say it happens in response to an event but, more often than not, people don't learn from their own mistakes (just look at the track record of my questions) even when it's all there, black and white, clear as crystal.

Knowing this, let's make the question more focused: What starts and keeps character development in motion?

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    Woah, spoilers! :P Sep 19, 2019 at 20:35
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    You should probably read up on what a [character arc][en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Character_arc] is. It's too broad and fundamental of a subject to cover in a single post. That's not me being lazy; people have written entire books on how to construct effective character arcs. If you read a book on the subject you wil quickly come to realize that, yes, external events do influence a character's arc. It's just that the character rejects the 'lesson' he learns several times before accepting the truth, rejecting his flaw, and becoming a better person. Sep 19, 2019 at 21:31
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    OR the character rejects the truth, becomes miserable, and ends up in a worse place than where he started. Arcs come in a variety of flavors. Sep 19, 2019 at 21:35
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    I've added spoiler coverage for GOT and tweaked the subject line for better SEO. The original line was funny, but not SEO-friendly; if it means a lot, edit the question to add it somewhere there. Sep 19, 2019 at 21:45
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    Are you asking just about Heel-Face Turns, or about character arcs in general? The former we might be able to help you with; the latter is too broad. Sep 19, 2019 at 21:47

3 Answers 3


This is a big question, and depending on the type of character arc you're writing you might have to alter your process, but here's a simplified look at the different facets of a character arc and how they work:

1. Figure out your starting and ending point

If either of these aren't clearly defined in the planning stages, your character arc isn't going to be comprehensive. Let's use an example for this; Macbeth, who has an interesting little arc which we can explore.

Macbeth begins the story as a war hero and an important and loyal member of King Duncan's court. He ends the story as a mad, tyrannical king responsible for dozens of murders. A pretty big shift; don't worry if it's too extreme at this point, as figuring out how they got from A to B is what we're doing next.

2. Establish the pre-existing factors which lead to the change

Nobody changes without reason, and a big life event isn't enough to make them change in a specific way. Different people will react to similar situations in different ways. For example, a person who has already experienced tragedy will react differently from someone who has never lost someone before.

These pre-existing factors may be internal or external, or a mix of both. Let's go back to our Macbeth example. The factors that lead Macbeth to kill Duncan are largely his ambition and previous accomplishments as thane and as a war hero. His lust for power as well as his pride at his past feats make him believe that being king will be beneficial for him.

Keep in mind that the nature of these factors is that they're not strong enough for the change to occur by them alone. Macbeth's ambition and accomplishments are still not enough to overpower his loyalty to Duncan and moral opposition to killing. That's where the next part comes in.

3. Create the inciting incident

What is the event that causes your character to pass the threshold and begin to change? What is the straw that breaks the camel's back, combining with the pre-existing factors to incite it?

For Macbeth, this is the witches' prophecy, and Lady M's subsequent urging to kill Duncan. Keep in mind that the inciting incident doesn't have to be a single static event; it can be an incident in which a variety of factors, including the pre-existing ones, push the character to begin to change.

Now's a good time to ask the question: What does your character want? This is the event that will convince them they can get it by acting a certain way.

4. Let your character act upon their new desires

So, they've changed, just a little, due to a couple factors. Now's the time for them to begin acting upon their change, to drive the plot and show the audience how their character is developing.

Wherever your character is headed, you can't make them immediately get there after the inciting incident. They need to progressively act upon their desires until their actions get more and more extreme. Generally, this is because by acting, they've begun to achieve what they desire, and this only adds onto their want as they've received a positive reaction. For Macbeth, this is the murders he commits.

For a positive character arc example, perhaps this is the character, after realising they need to be more open about their emotions, talking about their feelings with their friends and family. This causes a positive change in their life so they continue doing it.

5. End the arc

Now you've reached the ending point which you decided upon at the start. This is the 'new person' that they've become due to the change that has occurred and the actions they've taken. For Macbeth, he's now a tyrant king. His arc ends with him being killed by Macduff.

6. Ensure the arc is easily understood by the audience

Now that you've outlined it, you can begin to look over your arc. Make sure that you foreshadowing pre-existing factors before the inciting event so it doesn't feel like the change came out of nowhere. Dive into your character's psyche and make sure the audience understands their reasoning from their point of view, even if it's relatively sick and twisted.

That's a pretty basic way to write a character arc. This method won't work perfectly for all authors; experiment around with your character and their arc, and make sure to consider how the audience will interpret it. This is where big-picture thinking comes in, and most likely where the writers of Game of Thrones failed with Dany. By not making the arc easily understood by the audience, by making it hard for them to empathise with her and understand how she got to that place, the arc is badly written.

For further reading beyond this basic overview, there's a good series of articles by K.M. Weiland I'd recommend checking out:



As others have pointed out in comments, it's too much to cover in just 1 answer (I won't be shocked if this gets closed as too broad) but I will attempt to cover the basics. There are two things that are necessary.

1: consistency.

A character, unless if they are literally schizophrenic, should be consistent, even in change: that is, you should change while remaining consistent. If they suddenly switch from the Light Side to the Dark side it should be because of the values they've held the whole time. When Anakin turned evil it was because he didn't trust the Jedi and was arguably jealous of their power, which was shown throughout the whole film and even in the film before. Also to protect Padme which he clearly already cared about leading up to his change because he'd been trying to find out how to protect her the whole time. The urge to be more powerful and to protect Padme didn't come out of nowhere, it had been there the whole time, he just found a new way to fulfill it.

2: foreshadowing.

When Anakin turned evil it wasn't all at once, for example in Episode II when he killed the tuskin raiders (to be fair having seen the original trilogy we knew he'd turn evil anyways). When we learned Palpatine was evil it was no shock because it was already hinted at, for example, the fact that he knew an ancient Sith legend. Remember that some foreshadowing should seem insignificant at the time, but will make sense looking back after the fact.

Overall if you look at it, Anakin didn't change all that much at the moment he agreed to become Palpatine's apprentice, he had already come to the edge of abandoning the Light Side, but it was here that he made the conscious decision to change. Kreia from Star Wars Kotor 2 sums it up very well

It's a quiet thing, to fall, but far more devastating to admit it

Of course, this answer was specifically about turning from good to bad but any change of heart or allegiance would follow roughly the same roles.


First, TV serials are virtually impossible to end in a way that satisfies the audience. The whole dramatic structure of a TV drama militates against bringing it to a dramatically satisfying conclusion. The probably applies to book series to. The whole art of the serial is to subvert the traditional story form that comes to a crisis and then resolves. A serial cannot come to a true crisis, because then it would have to end. It must repeatedly come to a faux crisis and then reset. Its players are chosen and designed to do this. And so they are not designed to come to a great climax and resolution and the attempt to bring them to one is almost always going to fail.

Second, people fight and then make friends all the time. At least, men do. I'm not sure that that works with women in the same way. But you can see it with men in combat sports all the time. Fighters who have been spewing vitriol at each other for weeks in the lead up to the fight hug each other when the fight is over.

Part of this is that men (combative men, anyway) admire an equally spirited and courageous combative man, so, win or lose, they admire the opponent who fought courageously (and despise the one who did not). Second, many relationship, especially between men, involve an alpha and a beta. Often they fight to establish who is alpha, but once the defeated rival accepts their beta status, they happily follow the alpha.

Often in life, and in literature, it is not really a matter of pure good vs. pure evil, but a matter of people finding a place in society. A fight can establish your place, whether you win or lose, so once your place is established, there may be no reason to fight and thus an occasion to make friends.

Finally, a fight may change your view of which cause is the good one. It is a literary axiom that the villain believes themselves to be in the right. A fight is a test of values and of virtues as well as a test of strength. Often, seeing the conviction with which people fight for a cause is enough to cause other people to adopt that cause. (We are fundamentally more attracted to people we admire than to abstract causes we agree with. Evidence of this is everywhere. It is why prophets can change society so quickly and so easily when they appear with the right charisma at the right moment.)

In short, people do not change willy nilly, but they do change in response to the behavior of other people, whether that behavior is admirable and courageous or cowardly and contemptible. Look, therefore, to the psychology of affiliation and admiration to understand were sudden shifts of allegiance may come from.

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