Screenplays Online: Character Arcs

Welcome to Screenplays Online! Haven’t had any luck in screenplay contests yet? You might want to check your character arcs. If you start reading screenplays online, you can easily follow character arcs and learn how to create them so you can improve yours.

By Chicago Screenplay Awards Dept.

Character arcs aren’t quite as simple as starting your character off one way and having him end another. They’re a core part of screenwriting language and you need to familiarize yourself with how they work. But before delving into what makes a good character arc, good enough for winning screenplay contests, let’s break down them as key elements of a screenplay.

“The journey defines your character, not the destination”.

Online Screenplays Required Knowledge: What is a Charcater Arc?

A character arc is the journey that your character goes through over the course of the story. The journey defines your character, not the destination. The goal is to make your character’s journey as meaningful as possible. The recipe to write a well-crafted character arc is to incorporate an impactful and logical change in your character. These meaningful journeys are exactly what judges in screenplay contests look for.

How To Create a Good Character Arc For Screenplay Contests

In screenwriting language,  in online screenplays or in any type of screenplay there are two terms that must be distinguished when it comes to character arcs: goals and needs. Goals are one thing, needs are another. Those concepts are related but they’re not the same.


A goal is a tangible or physical objective. A character arc is not possible without a clear character goal. 

Examples of goals often used in movies include:

  • Getting the girl
  • Saving the hostages
  • Destroying the villain

A need, on the other hand, is the emotional realization the character must have in order to overcome obstacles, change for the better, and ultimately “defeat the bad guy.”

Common needs that we see in movies include:

  • Abandoning a self-limiting belief
  • Realizing one’s own flaws
  • Accepting the sacrifice of one’s selfish desires

Understanding the difference between goals and needs is a crucial lesson in any online screenplays course. To practice identifying goals and needs, access screenplays online and map out each character arc. Becoming better at analyzing character arcs will improve your skills to build one and building a good character arc boosts your chances at screenplay competitions.

The Relationship Between Character Goals and Character Needs

screenplay competition goals

Your character needs underlie the character’s ability to achieve his or her goals. It isn’t until he or she is able to realize the need that the goal is then accessible. If you focus on this relationship and build it into your character arc properly, your screenplay is more likely to be accepted in contests. But even if you’re looking to develop your script outside of screenplay competitions, character arcs are key elements of online screenplays that have to be perfected. Make sure when creating your screenplay to watch out for simple mistakes.


Let’s take a look at examples of character arcs in movies to understand this relationship better.

  • In David O. Russell’s romantic comedy, Silver Linings Playbook, Pat (Bradley Cooper) is a guy who wants to get the girl (Jennifer Lawrence) but he’s too caught up in the heartache tied to his ex-wife’s betrayal. Before he can achieve his goal of “getting the girl”, he must first acknowledge his need to get over his ex-wife. In romantic comedies, this is usually the advice given by the “best friend” (in this case the father played by Robert DeNiro) which leads to the confession of love and the achievement of the goal at the climax.

In Jumanji, Allan’s goal is to get out of Jumanji and back to reality while his need is to learn to appreciate family. Throughout the story, when Allan (played by Robin Williams) emerges from the Jumanji board, he is constantly reminded of his father and is forced to recall how his lack of appreciation towards his father destroyed his own life and family. It was his initial lack of appreciation that took Allan into the mythical depths of hell where he learns his lesson, learns to appreciate his father, and ultimately returns back to reality with a newfound appreciation for his family.

online screenplays character arcs

The Three Basic Types Of Character Arcs

There are three types of character arcs:

  • Transformation arc – your character undergoes a complete change over the course of the journey and their beliefs or behaviors radically change. For example, Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games has a transformation character arc as she learns about the reality of her world and how she must rise to defeat the odds.
  • Growth arc – unlike the transformation type, the growth arc is when your character learns something new without really changing. For example, Dory in Finding Nemo has a growth arc because she learns the importance of friendship on her journey but still keeps the basic aspects of her personality.
  • Fall arc – this is also known as a declining arc because your character changes for the worse. For example, Anakin Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise has a clear fall arc as he becomes the iconic villain Darth Vader.


Like life itself, the journey is the basis for the learning experience. We all know the adage “it’s about the journey, not the destination.” To be able to convince judges in screenplay contests that your script is a winner, you need to master all the elements of a screenplay, most importantly: the character arc. Your character’s journey needs to teach your character a valuable lesson about overcoming obstacles that leads them to either achieving their goal or to transcending the goal through the realization of a fundamental need.

In Conclusion

Don’t forget, if you want to develop your character arcs, you can do that by doing two things: watching movies and reading screenplays online. You can also find some character arc templates that can help you in the early stages of writing. Exposure to as many character arcs as possible will train your mind to see, process, and, eventually, write character arcs better.


Now that you’ve gained a better understanding of this aspect of screenwriting language, you can move on to other elements of a screenplay that make a screenplay pop in screenplay competitions. 

Strong characters are a MUST,  before submitting your script to a screenplay competition.

Spread the word