Arc of the Character – a lecture on understanding story development

The School of Liberal Arts and Basic Sciences (SLABS) at SRM University- AP, Amaravati focuses on providing a fully rounded, multi-disciplinary undergraduate education. This education equips our students with skills to deal with increasingly complex issues and challenges using a multi-dimensional thought process and problem-solving skills.

In his latest lecture Dr James West, Professor of English at SLABS explored the multiple layers of ‘Arc of the Character’ by drawing on English cinema, specifically analysing movies like Titanic, Finding Nemo, and the Harry Potter series. The lecture was conducted for students of Communicative English.

He began with a description of how communal story-telling evolved as a form of entertainment in ancient times when books, television, and the internet did not exist. The Arc of the Character helps make sense of the story according to Dr West and is a method commonly used by screenplay writers and authors.

Character Development is the first stage and the first 10-15 minutes of any story is devoted to describing the character and building the audience connect.

The next stage is the Crisis wherein the characters get involved in a situation that engages the audience and allows for escalation of the plot.

In the next state the Crisis Deepens and the characters go through deeper tension that helps define them and further builds the audience’s association.

In the next stage, the main character(s) enters what Dr West calls the Underworld. In this stage, the main character enters a world full of challenges.

To overcome their situation, the characters go through a stage called Arete – which means excellence in Greek – wherein they have to draw upon their inner strengths. This is also the stage where some characters in real life, mythology, and cinema go on to suffer from hubris.

Moving on, we see a Confrontation Between Good and Evil. This big confrontation deepens the challenges for the main character. This confrontation leads the main character to undergo a sort of Resurrection and Transformation, which are the next two components of the Arc, and often involve a near-death experience.

These stages then define the Arc of the Character. The lecture was a splendid example of the richness of the SLABS course curriculum and the kind of experiences students go through on any given day.

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