Mol (mollyringle) wrote,

Four-part character arc vs. three-act plot structure

I've always struggled with the three-act plot structure. Where to draw the lines between acts isn't always clear to me; the so-called turning points can too often seem too numerous and I'm not sure which one counts as "the important one." (It's a turning point for Frodo when he flees Bag End for Bree, but also when he volunteers in Rivendell to take the Ring to Mordor, but also when he leaves the Fellowship with Sam, but also...wait, is this Act Two yet?) SO, I was excited to read a different theory that puts the typical character arc into FOUR parts instead, which make far more sense to me:

1. Orphan (the character in the beginning, with their life lacking something)
2. Wanderer (the character after the initial shove into the main problem, figuring things out but still half likely to reject the whole quest)
3. Warrior (the character taking on the quest and finding new courage as well as dangers)
4. Martyr (the character being willing to put everything on the line to achieve the goal, though they don't actually have to die [but can if this is a tragedy])

This is based on Carol S. Pearson's The Hero Within, and has been adapted by lots of writers. This post claims that these four character stages can be overlaid onto the three-act plot structure thus:

In Act 1: ORPHAN...lost...needing a quest.
In Act 2A: WANDERER...chose the quest...but unsure how to achieve it.
(stick in here a MOMENT OF GRACE (MOG) where S/He discovers what the story is really about)
In Act 2B: WARRIOR...having discovered through the moral premise how to actually get what he needs.
In Act 3: MARTYR for what he and his village back home needs.

This lines up a lot better for me, for the stories I write. Whew!

As for Frodo...hmm, does he become a Warrior at "I will take the Ring to Mordor," or not until the breaking of the Fellowship? Still undecided for me, but maybe the latter. It's only then that he realizes (moment of grace) that he can't do this with the whole Fellowship along, but must do it anyway. Plus then the LOTR trilogy breaks more nicely into the three acts too. :)
Tags: lord of the rings, writing

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