A protagonist doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  They are the primary characters with a goal to achieve within the confines of a story and oppositional forces preventing them from reaching that goal.  How they get there, their struggles throughout, and how they change and evolve as the events of the story unfold help to create their Character Arc.  

Now, let’s understand the dynamics of a narrative. There are two main arcs at play: Character Arcs and Story Arcs. These are not separate entities but intricately intertwined.  What unfolds in one directly impacts the other, shaping the story and the main character’s journey. However, these arcs are not straightforward paths. They’re more like a maze, filled with detours, potholes, and dead ends.

That’s because these hazards provide conflict, conflict becomes drama, and drama makes for a compelling story for your character to inhabit and react to.

The Hero’s Journey: An Overview

The main character of any story starts in one place and grows from who they were at the start by the end of the story. This is a common template that writer Joseph Campbell discovered by analyzing myths and legends from various cultures.  What he came up with became known as The Hero’s Journey, and it’s been applied in films like The Wizard of OzStar WarsThe Lion King, and Titanic.

Campbell’s Hero’s Journey includes twelve stages: Ordinary WorldCall to Adventure; RefusalMeeting with the MentorCrossing the ThresholdTests, Allies, EnemiesApproach to Inmost CaveOrdealReward (Seizing the Sword)The Road BackResurrection; and Return with the Elixir (Vogler 212) 

In the next post, we’ll explore these further with examples. As you read over the stages, do you recognize them from movies you’ve seen?  Star Wars: A New Hope definitely follows these steps closely. 

The Journey As Character Arc

Author Christopher Vogler uses Campbell’s twelve stages as a “good guide to the steps needed to create a realistic character arc” with the following comparable list: 

1) limited awareness of a problem; 2) increased awareness; 3) reluctance to change; 4) overcoming reluctance; 5) committing to change; 6) experimenting with first change; 7) preparing for big change; 8) attempting big change; 9) consequences of the attempt (improvements and setbacks); 10) rededication to change; 11) final attempt at big change; 12) final mastery of the problem (Vogler 212)

I know it’s a lot of information in a short period of time.  As you dig deeper into how stories are created and how they progress, you’ll begin to recognize these elements as they appear on the screen or the page.  

Western vs Eastern Arcs

While we’re mainly focused on the Westernized version of the Character Arc for this series, another arc used in Asian storytelling has distinct variations and is worth knowing about.  Below is a link to a great article that breaks down both types of storytelling in detail:

Next Time…

We’ll continue our exploration of the protagonist Character Arc with even more examples! 

See you next time! 


Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.

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