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WEEKLY SCREENWRITER TOP TEN #6 "ARCS"

Updated: Jan 15, 2023




As a screenwriter, it's important to understand the various types of 'Arcs' in a screenplay or teleplay. By now you should already know that Arcs provide structure and progression to your story and helps create a sense of growth and change in your characters and especially your plot.


Arcs make your story more compelling to the reader and audience. They allow the story, that you poured your heart and soul into, to build tension, conflict, and much-needed resolution.

Many well-known screenplays use various forms of Arcs to keep the audience engaged. One finest example of multiple Arcs being incorporated within one film would be the timeless masterpiece...


an American drama film written and directed by Frank Darabont, based on the 1982 Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.


On today's Weekly Screenwriter list we'll go over 10 types of ARCS you, the screenwriter, should know.


1. CHARACTER ARC


In my opinion, Character Arcs are the most important ones to master. The change or development of your character's inner journey throughout the story and the world you built is vital. The emotional, psychological, and moral evolution of your character shapes their identity and beliefs as they encounter challenges and conflicts and make hard choices.


Character arcs are often the driving force behind your story and can be a powerful tool for creating depth and complexity in your character(s). It can involve a character overcoming personal flaws or weaknesses, discovering their true purpose or identity, or learning valuable lessons that shape their worldview. Ultimately, your character arc should show how the character has grown and changed by the end of the story.


CHARACTER ARC EXAMPLE:


Andy Dufresne ( TIM ROBBINS) is a great example of character development and transformation. At the beginning of the film, Andy is a quiet and reserved man who has been falsely convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He's initially portrayed as a victim of circumstance, someone who has been dealt a bad hand in life and is struggling to adapt to life behind bars. As the story progresses, however, Andy begins to find his footing and starts to take control of his situation. He befriends fellow inmate Ellis Boyce (MORGAN FREEMAN) and starts to stand up for himself, refusing to be bullied or mistreated by the guards or other inmates.


Over time, Andy's character arc takes a more positive turn as he begins to find ways to make the best of his situation. He starts to use his financial skills and knowledge to help other inmates and even manages to get a job in the prison library. Andy's character arc reaches its climax when he hatches a daring plan to escape from Shawshank prison. His determination and resourcefulness ultimately pay off, and he is able to make a successful escape, leaving behind the prison and his old life for good. Through his character arc, Andy transforms from a victim of circumstance into a confident and capable man who takes charge of his own life and makes the most of his circumstances, no matter how difficult they may seem.


2. RELATIONSHIP ARC


In your screenplay, the development of a relationship between two or more characters is your Relationship Arc. It can be a romantic relationship, a friendship, a familial relationship, or any other type of connection between characters.


The relationship arc follows the progression of the relationship from the beginning of the story to its resolution or ending, showing how the characters grow and change as a result of their interaction with one another.


This arc can be a key element in the overall plot or theme of the story, and can often play a significant role in the character arcs of the characters involved.


RELATIONSHIP ARC EXAMPLE:


Mild-mannered and educated Andy Dufresne befriends Ellis Boyce "Red" who's serving a life sentence. Throughout the film, the relationship between Andy and Red evolves from one of the casual acquaintances to a deep and meaningful friendship. Andy's intelligence and resourcefulness allow him to help Red and other inmates in various ways, such as obtaining contraband items and securing better jobs within the prison. In return, Red helps Andy to navigate the often-tough prison environment and protects him from harm.


As the years pass, Andy and Red's friendship grows stronger, and they support each other through the challenges and hardships of prison life. Ultimately, Andy's friendship with Red helps him to maintain hope and find a sense of purpose during his time in prison. Their relationship arc is a key part of the film's story, and it serves as a testament to the enduring power of friendship and the human spirit.


3. PLOT ARC


This arc is the overall progression and resolution of the main plot of your story. It's the structure that shapes the events and drives the narrative forward. The plot arc typically consists of a series of challenges or obstacles that the main character(s) must overcome in order to achieve whatever their goal might be.


As your character faces and resolves these challenges, the plot arc moves toward its climax and eventual resolution. The plot arc is an essential element that provides the structure and framework for your story and helps to engage and captivate the audience.


PLOT ARC EXAMPLE:


At the beginning of "The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne faces the challenges of prison life with resilience and determination and bonding with Red. As the years pass, Andy earns the respect of the prison guards and the other inmates because of his financial savviness. He even uses his skills to help the corrupt warden to launder money.


The entire time though, Andy spends his time planning his escape. He eventually succeeds in tunneling out of the prison and leaves a note for Red saying, "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." The plot arc of this film follows Andy's journey from a falsely accused prisoner to a successful escapee, and the themes of hope, friendship, and determination are woven throughout the story.


4. THEMATIC ARC


The development and resolution of the underlying theme or message of your story encompass the 'Thematic Arc'. It's the way in which your story explores and communicates a particular idea or message to the audience that you may want them to know. This can be conveyed through the actions and choices of your characters, the events of the plot, and the overall tone and atmosphere of the story.


The thematic arc is often closely tied to the character arc and the plot arc, as the characters' inner journeys and the progression of the story can help to reveal and explore the central theme of the story.


THEMATIC ARC EXAMPLE:


Andy Dufresne faces the harsh realities of prison life, yet, he still maintains hope that he will one day be able to prove his innocence and regain his freedom. He faces numerous challenges and setbacks, throughout the film, including a brutal attack by fellow inmates and the corrupt practices of the prison guards. However, he never loses "HOPE" and continues to work towards his goal.


As the film progresses, Andy's hope inspires others in the prison, including Red. Andy's determination and perseverance eventually pay off when he's able to obtain evidence that clears his name and secures his release from prison. The thematic arc, ultimately, suggests that hope can be a powerful force, even in the most difficult circumstances. Hope can inspire others to achieve their own goals.


5. SETTING ARC


The evolution or change of the physical setting in which your story takes place is your Setting Arc. This can include both the location and the time period in which your story occurs. It can be used to enhance the overall plot and character development by providing a different backdrop or environment for your story to unfold.


It can also be used to symbolize the internal or external changes that your characters are going through. One instance would be if a character starts the story in a small, rural town and ends up in a big city. The setting arc can symbolize their personal growth and development.


SETTING ARC EXAMPLE:


The setting arc begins in the bleak and oppressive walls of the Shawshank prison. Throughout the film, Andy Dufresne slowly transforms the prison library into a thriving hub of education and hope for the inmates. As he gathers books and starts a program to teach his fellow prisoners to read, the setting of the prison becomes more and more transformed. The dingy, depressing atmosphere slowly gives way to a sense of community and purpose as the prisoners begin to see the value in education and self-improvement.


By the end of the film, the setting of Shawshank prison is almost unrecognizable from the place it was at the beginning of the film. The library is a bustling hub of activity, the prisoners are more hopeful and engaged, and the overall atmosphere of the prison is much brighter and more positive. This transformation of the setting reflects the transformation of the characters within it and serves as a powerful example of a setting arc in a screenplay.


6. EMOTIONAL ARC

The progression and evolution of the overall emotional tone or atmosphere of the story refer to the way that the story affects the emotions of the characters and the audience, and how this changes over the course of the story.


For instance, your story might start off with a light, comedic mood and gradually becomes more serious and dramatic as the characters face challenges and conflicts. The emotional mood arc can be used to heighten the impact of the story and keep the audience engaged.


EMOTIONAL ARC EXAMPLE:


In the beginning, Andy's a reserved and quiet man wrongfully imprisoned for murder. He's emotionally distant and struggles to connect with others, often keeping to himself in his cell. As the film progresses, he begins to open up and form relationships with others, particularly his friend Red. He also becomes more confident in his abilities, using his financial skills to help the prison administration and gain respect from the other prisoners.


However, Andy's emotional arc truly begins to change when he discovers a hidden tunnel in the prison library and begins secretly tunneling out. This act of rebellion and determination to escape represents a turning point in Andy's emotional state, as he becomes more determined and hopeful for the future. As Andy continues to plan his escape, he also becomes more compassionate and caring towards his fellow inmates, using his position of power to help them in various ways.


Finally, when Andy successfully escapes and starts a new life, he's a completely different man. He's confident, strong, and emotionally open, having overcome the hardships of prison and finding true happiness and freedom. Andy's emotional arc is one of transformation and growth, as he goes from a reserved and distant man to a confident and compassionate individual.


7. TENSION ARC


A tension arc will help build and maintain your audience's interest and engagement in your story. It's a plot structure that involves the gradual escalation of tension or conflict throughout the narrative, culminating in a climactic moment or resolution.

The tension arc will serve several purposes in your screenplay. It helps to build suspense and keep the audience guessing about what will happen next. It also helps to create a sense of stakes and urgency, making your story more engaging and emotionally impactful.


A well-crafted tension arc is an important part of any effective screenplay, as it helps to keep the audience invested in the story and the characters. It is a crucial element that helps to drive the narrative forward and keep the audience engaged from beginning to end.


TENSION ARC EXAMPLE:


Andy Dufresne struggles to adjust to life in prison and faces hostility and abuse from the other inmates. However, he eventually begins to find ways to assert his independence and make a place for himself within the prison community. As the years pass, Andy becomes more and more determined to prove his innocence and find a way to escape from Shawshank. He begins to form relationships with the other inmates, including the wise and elderly Red and uses his skills as a financial expert to help the prison guards with various financial tasks.


The tension in the story builds as Andy starts to uncover evidence that could potentially exonerate him, but he's constantly thwarted by the corrupt prison officials and their attempts to cover up the truth. As Andy becomes more determined to clear his name and escape, the stakes become higher, and the tension mounts. Eventually, Andy's persistence pays off and he's able to escape and start a new life, bringing the tension arc to a satisfying resolution.


8. MYSTERY ARC


The progression and resolution of a mystery or puzzle within the story embodies the Mystery Arc. This type of arc involves the character(s) trying to solve a crime, uncover a secret, or figure out the truth about something.


The mystery arc usually involves the character(s) following clues, gathering evidence, and piecing together information to eventually solve the mystery. The resolution of the mystery arc is typically the revelation of the truth or the resolution of the crime or puzzle. It's clear and to the point. Twists and turns at every corner. Mix it in with other arcs and your screenplay could potentially be a hit.


MYSTERY ARC EXAMPLE:


The mystery surrounding the escape of Andy Dufresne is a fine example. Throughout the film, he seems content to serve his life sentence for a crime he claims he did not commit. However, as the film progresses, it becomes clear that Andy has been secretly working on a plan to escape from prison.


As the other characters try to figure out what Andy is up to, the mystery deepens. They see him spending long hours in the prison library, and they notice that he has been receiving strange packages and letters. As the mystery unravels, it becomes clear that Andy has been using his skills as a financial advisor to launder money for the corrupt prison warden, and he's been using this money to finance his escape. The warden realizes that Andy is planning to escape and tries to stop him, but Andy outwits him and successfully escapes from Shawshank.


The mystery arc in Shawshank Redemption adds tension and suspense to the film, and it keeps the audience guessing until the very end. It also adds depth to the characters and their motivations, making the film more compelling and engaging.


9. REVELATION ARC


Your Character's realization or discovery of something significant or important defines your Revelation Arc. This could be a realization about themselves, their situation, or the world around them.


This revelation often leads to a change or shift in your character's actions or perspective and can be a key element in their character arc. It can also drive the plot forward and lead to new conflicts or challenges for the characters to face.


REVELATION ARC EXAMPLE:


Andy Dufresne, at first, seems resigned to his fate, and we see him struggling to adapt to life behind bars. However, as the film progresses, we see Andy slowly revealing his true character as he befriends Red and others and then begins to plot his escape. We see him using his knowledge of finance and his natural intelligence to manipulate the system, and we see him becoming more and more confident as he works towards his goal.


The revelation arc in this film comes when Andy finally escapes from Shawshank prison and is revealed to be a master manipulator and planner. His quiet, reserved demeanor is revealed to be a façade, and we see that he has been working toward his escape all along. This revelation completely changes our perception of Andy and adds depth and complexity to his character.


10. CLIMAX ARC


Your Climax Arc is the peak or turning point of the story, where the main conflict or tension is resolved. This is often the most intense or dramatic moment of the story, where the stakes are highest and the characters must make important decisions or take decisive action.


The climax arc typically follows the rising action of the plot and leads to the resolution or denouement of the story. It is often the moment of greatest emotional impact for the characters and the audience.


CLIMAX ARC EXAMPLE:


Andy Dufresne finally escapes from Shawshank prison after being falsely imprisoned for over two decades. Throughout the film, Andy has been working on a secret project - tunneling his way out of the prison with a rock hammer and a poster of Raquel Welch as his motivation. Despite facing numerous setbacks and obstacles, Andy remains determined to escape and finally achieves his goal at the climax of the film.


As the climactic scene plays out, Andy's fellow prisoners are all gathered in the prison yard for a morning roll call when they realize he's nowhere to be found. It is then revealed that Andy has tunneled his way out of the prison, left a letter for his friend Red, and escaped to Mexico. The tension and excitement of this scene are heightened as the prison guards frantically search for Andy, and the other prisoners watch in amazement as he successfully escapes. This moment marks the pinnacle of Andy's journey and serves as a triumphant conclusion to his long and difficult struggle for freedom.


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