Character arc is the change one of your main characters goes through from the beginning of your story until the end. Every well-written screenplay should have at least one character who learns something major and changes his behavior or attitude in the course of the script.
In the drama “Rain Man,” the Tom Cruise character starts out mistreating his autistic brother who he’s kidnapped and holding for ransom because he feels cheated out of an inheritance. By the end of a cross country adventure, the Cruise character learns to love his brother and ultimately turns down a large check in order to maintain contact with him.
In the movie “Liar, Liar,” Jim Carey plays an attorney who is forced to tell the truth for twenty four hours because of a wish he makes to his son. By the end of the film, Carey has not only exhausted all the comic potential that this high concept idea generates but he becomes a better father in the process for his honesty. That is his character arc.
Even though virtually every story has one character undergoing an arc, there are a few notable exceptions. James Bond is essentially unchanged from beginning to end in every film of the franchise. In “Godfather 2,” Al Pacino’s character stays ruthless throughout the movie and has no arc at all. In “The French Connection,” Popeye Doyle’s character remains a reckless, obsessive detective until the closing credits despite having just accidentally killed a fellow officer.
Despite these exceptions, your scripts should have at least one major character who goes through a change in his belief or behavior.
Steve Kaire is a Screenwriter/Pitchman who’s sold 8 projects to the major studios on spec without representation. His CD, “High Concept -- How to Create, Pitch & Sell to Hollywood” is available on his website along with more articles. HighConceptScreenwriting.com