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Lesson #4 Character Arc – The Magic Cross!

Updated: Nov 9, 2019

It’s time to look at the structure. I know it looks like I am talking about everything else except structure, but this is just because I want to be sure we have covered everything before we dive into the most important part of every script. And even though everything is important, structure is by far the most important in my opinion.

© My Archetypal Wheel

Choose your favorite song. What first pops up in your mind is probably the melody and the rhythm, not the lyrics. And then even the lyrics, which we usually don’t remember, find their way to us through a specific tempo rhythm. The best songs are perfect combination of story, meaning and pure emotion.

In screenwriting we say character is the structure and structure is the character. Structure depends on the story and on the idea as well. Also, it depends on genre and we definitely have to speak about genre, one of the next times for sure. So many things, right?

Once you define your idea (you can see a distinction between the logline, idea, etc. here) and once you have your character map, you can really start with the basic structure.

Please, please, I beg you – use the archetypal wheel I spoke about the last time – because I found out something even more interesting about the wheel - I figured out a way to use it!


So, let me show you first how to do it for your protagonist


Choose a defining archetype and see which is the opposing one; they are like two sides of the same coin.

(Let’s say ‘Ruler’ is the defining and ‘Innocent’ is opposing, for example).

You are going to use the opposing one as a force of change for the defining one. The whole range between two opposing archetypes I call the ‘archetypal axis,’ but you can also call it the journey between two opposing archetypes. In storytelling we call this the character arc.

And how do I know that the opposing archetypes on this wheel are really the opposing archetypes in life? I explained it here. But I don’t want you to believe me. Try it for yourself.


The Shadow side of the DEFINING archetype is going to transform into the positive by using the OPPOSING archetype, where you start with the positive and end with the negative.

For example:

From The DEFINING Shadow, the character wants to make things up with:

The OPPOSING Positive – but from here the only way is down again to:

The OPPOSING Shadow – from where he/she can climb to:

The DEFINING Positive (which is more like DEFINING+OPPOSING combined)

*Note that this structure is for genres with a happy ending, while for tragedy, you would consider starting with the Positive and end with the Shadow. For example, in the film Sunset Boulevard, first you have a ‘Creator Positive’, Joe Gillis fights for his dream. He transforms into an ‘Orphan Shadow’ with Norma (which is about relationships), then he finds ‘Orphan Positive’ with young screenwriter Betty, and ends up like a Creator Shadow. It’s interesting, however, that because we have circular plot line, at the beginning we have the ending of the film - his flash forward “voice over the pool,” is actually the ‘Creator Shadow’ part of the story.

The point is, you have four different directions (2+2), to put your character on the cross!
The rebirth of the character is possible only by integrating his/her opposite side.
Cross + rebirth = (Is it possible that the biggest story of Western civilization is actually also a metaphor?) Of course it is!

If you would only know how crazy beautiful this idea is! You know why?


Because, the DEFINING archetype you are going to use for the A (action) story (or your major plot line) and the OPPOSING archetype for the B (relationship) story. Those two-story lines (A and B) as the two opposing archetypes are both intertwined – this is 2+2.

We use the B story as a counterpoint for the A story in feature film structure. Always. Every feature film happens in between these two storylines – we also say that one is a “wish line” and the other a “need line.”

And this is also an unbelievable useful for the four-act structure – which is, in my opinion, more accurate than the three-act one.


If you followed steps one, two, and three, you now have your first character-arc for feature film! This means that you’re drawing your first structural lines around your story. And also you can feel how character and structure define one another and eventually becoming one.


Why is it also useful to use opposing archetypes?

In the script, I am rewriting now (I have the first draft), I have five important characters and when I looked into the archetypal wheel, I realized that for all of them, the archetypal axes are accurate – they all change from one archetype into another. I was really surprised to discover that and that’s why I am so excited to share my archetypal wheel with all of you.

But, even though structurally I was satisfied with the script I originally had and am now rewriting, sometimes I found that certain situations somehow didn’t resonate properly. The characters maybe say or do something that I don’t feel are as truthful as I would like them to feel.

To fix this, I went to see their archetypes once again, and I immediately figured out what they would actually do or say depending on if they were on the ‘Shadow’ or ‘Positive’ side of the archetype. Not just for the protagonist. Try it! I believe you would also be surprised.


So, this is your homework for this week:

Put your protagonist on the cross!

  • Define both the action (A) and relationship (B) story.

  • For both stories define the ‘Positive’ and ‘Shadow’ sides. In other words, define two character arcs for your protagonist.

  • From there, define at least four major turning points for both arcs; do it intuitively first. What do you need for him or her to change between those opposing forces? Maybe one of the turning points is him or her meeting the Antagonist. Sometimes turning points in A and B story are the same, but not always.

  • Define character arcs for the rest of the characters. (Archetype: Positive & Shadow, Opposite: Positive & Shadow). You’ll see this is going to be really useful, once we dive even deeper into the story.


And now let’s play

Also, let’s discuss your favorite films- for example, what do you think this journey looks like for Clarice from Silence of the Lambs? (This is a tough one. You always have to know exactly what film is about – write in the comment section!)

Please let me know if you find this helpful.

Hope you also have fun! More next time. Take care.

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