5 Tips to Master a Complex Character Arc

One of my favourite characters to write is the kind where they have to grow on you. Whether you start out hating them or just not trusting them, I find great joy in planting the scenes that show off their humanity. However, I’m not under any delusion that this is easy. It can be difficult to make this arc realistic, or smooth. Here are my 5 tips on crafting a complex character arc.


This may be the most important tip on this list. This can be helpful in any form of outlining, but especially the complicated parts.

Don’t just think of what you want. Write it all down, type it up, where they should be in the beginning and where they should be in the end. How the readers should see them in the beginning, how we should see them in the end.


Now, this isn’t necessary. Sometimes it has a certain fondness when you whip something out and suddenly the character is seen totally differently. But most time, I like this transformation to be subtle.

The best example I can think of is Daryl from The Walking Dead. When we first met him, he was racist, angry, and explosive. I didn’t exactly hate him, but he wasn’t someone I enjoyed seeing on screen. And now, six seasons later, he’s one of my favourite characters- One of everyone’s favourite characters.

I didn’t even realize the moment I started rooting for Daryl. It was just like, Oh, hey, remember when we hated this guy? Yeah, that was weird.

The key to this is small, subtle moments sprinkled around and then slowly building- A snowball effect. Like I mentioned before, showing their humanity is key. A loss of humanity makes a great villain. Masked humanity makes a great underdog.


It’s hard for people to grow, to change. They will make mistakes. Your character shouldn’t make a straight line to redemption.

The best part I’ve found to do this small back and forth is close to the middle of their arc, and right before the end starts.


I made this mistake plenty of times. In trying to make them disliked in the beginning, I had my character do some really fucked up shit. Thankfully, I caught this and changed it.

It’s one thing to make a character disliked, distrusted. It’s another to have them say things that are unforgivable.


These go hand in hand. Where your character is in their arc will affect their role in the plot, and what happens in the story will affect how fast or slow your character grows.

To avoid as many discrepancies as possible, create your characters while you create the plot and key scenes.

I absolutely adore these kind of character arcs, and I hope you do, too! If this helped you, be sure to check out my other blog posts and follow me on my social medias.

❤ Max

4 thoughts on “5 Tips to Master a Complex Character Arc

  1. Wordlander says:

    Great post! I’m concentrating hard on this for my next novel. Unlike my first it’s got more than one central character so I need to round them all out. And the character arc is something I’m focused on!

    Liked by 1 person

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