Wanda is, debatably, the most powerful Avenger. Or. . . ex-Avenger, depending on how you look at Multiverse of Madness.
But what if I told you that you can be just as powerful—actually, more powerful, because it won’t be all just special effects and acting and fancy new tech.
You have the power to change lives.
You have the strength to transform ideas. The voice to shift perspectives. The skills to rock worlds.
But you have to know how to not just tell a reader what to do. You must know how to show them different ideas, perspectives, morals, goals, and stories.
Bringing a character on a complete journey from villain to hero, or from underdog to victor, is one of the most fulfilling parts of being a writer, wouldn’t you agree? It’s your most powerful tool in having an impact on readers and is a truly beautiful part of writing.
It’s also one of the hardest things to pull off in a way that resonates with your readers and makes them actually care that the character is changing. (For a more in-depth article on making readers care about your characters, click here.)
The key to all of this transformation is the power of character arcs: the journey between the before and the after, the bridge between past and present, and the vital aspect of your characters having the same kind of transformation as Wanda Maximoff.
Character arcs are powerful—so powerful in fact that they can make or break a story, and either leave your readers feeling convicted and motivated, or emotionless and uncaring.
As many of you know, Wanda has one of the most beautifully transformative character arcs of the Marvel Universe. I would say her character arc takes her on the longest journey of all the Avengers, and it’s done very masterfully. But what about her character arc is done so well?
And most importantly, what writing skills can we learn from her journey? How can we take Wanda’s character arc and learn from it how to create that same kind of empathy in our readers?
How can we have that same power with our words?
A Book Without Character Arcs Is. . . Boring
I promise we’ll answer those questions and give you concrete steps towards creating character arcs like Wanda’s, but first I want you to think of the last time you read a book, or watched a movie, and came away feeling motivated, empowered, or even convicted. And, on the other hand, think of the last time you felt bored and emotionally unimpressed with a story.
If I could take an educated guess, both of those feelings tie into the presence, or lack, of character arcs.
When character arcs are present, and done well, you are taken along with the protagonist on their journey. Skilled authors are able to get across a pretty strong message by using their characters’ journeys and arcs. Moving character arcs often encourage and motivate you, and sometimes even convict you in such a way that you want to change your life just like the characters did.
But, when character arcs are not present, and the characters don’t change over the course of the story, I often find myself asking, “why did I even read that?” The lack of character arcs leaves no room to teach, no room to convict, and no room to take you on that journey side by side with the characters—because there is no journey!
So to say that character arcs are vital to stories and characters would be putting it lightly. Character arcs give life to the characters. Character arcs pour emotion into the plot. They’re the threads that connect the tapestry of words in a story—in a sense, character arcs are the story.
Let me put it this way: you can not have a strong plot, strong characters, or a strong theme, without quality character arcs.
But What Are Character Arcs Again?
Character arcs are really just a fancy name for saying the journey your character goes on, and how they change. The beginning of the character arcs would be who the character is in the beginning of the story, and the end of the arc is who they are at the end of the story. And with strong character arcs, the character from the beginning, and the character from the end, are vastly different.
Take a look at Wanda Maximoff’s life, and *warning* there will be spoilers from Dr. Strange: Into The Multiverse Of Madness. Wanda starts out as a science experiment—an enhanced teenager mad at the world and with freaky superpowers—and she ends her story as one of, if not the, most powerful Avenger, with so much power that she in effect starts becoming a villain again, and has to destroy herself.
Quite the change, if I do say so myself. And this is one of the reasons I think her story is so fascinating: she has a very dramatic character arc and a beautiful transformation from evil to good (until she goes back to evil. . .).
But this is what all readers love. They love characters that change, and thus challenge them to change as well because if you can see a character that you love and are connected to transform so powerfully, wouldn’t you want to make those same changes in your own life so that you can transform?
You can use this very powerfully to communicate themes and messages and convict your readers. Character arcs are actually one of the most effective ways of “preaching” to your readers, without actually preaching because you can show them through the life of your character what will happen when they make certain choices or do certain things.
So let’s get into the more practical side of how we can craft such powerful character arcs.
What Wanda’s Character Arc Teaches Us
1. Change Must Be Rooted In Motivation
One of the most annoying things I see when authors try to craft character arcs is when the change a character makes has nothing to do with who that character is, and what that character’s motivation is.
Character arcs that don’t tie into who that character is as a person—their loves and hates and fears and beliefs—feel fake and forced, and like an afterthought, instead of something that is vital to the story plot and the characters. The characters will make choices that “change” them and move them forwards on their character arc, but there’s no reason behind those choices.
We should know our characters, their motivations and fears, and backstories, so well that we can’t not root their character arc in who they are. But sometimes that’s very hard when you know where the character needs to get to, but you can’t seem to get them there. So you go with the easy route and force them to make a choice totally out of character that gets them to that next point on the character arc.
But as writers, we are not called to take the easy route. And it is vital that a character’s change is rooted in who they are, and their motivation.
Wanda’s character arc fulfilled this beautifully, and in a very non-forced way. In the beginning of Avengers: Age Of Ultron she is one of the main villains, using her powers to literally rip the Avengers apart from the inside out. And she’s doing this because her life was destroyed by Stark Industries, and so she has a very personal vendetta against Tony Stark.
But, beneath all that is a deeper desire to help people. At first, she believes that by being on Ultron’s side, she is fulfilling that desire, until she realizes that Ultron is no better than Tony Stark.
So she makes the decision to help the Avengers, instead of hurting them, because of that desire to help people. A desire that stemmed in her past, when she wasn’t able to help herself.
Her decision to change, and to move forwards in her character arc, is rooted in her motivations. It doesn’t feel forced, and it doesn’t feel fake.
So when you’re writing your character arcs, remember this: the beginning of a character changing from who they were, to something new, has to be rooted in their motivation.
2. Fear Stops Change
Another very powerful factor in character arcs is fear, because fear, in both real life and fiction, is powerful. It is the biggest thing that prevents characters from moving forward in their character arcs, and one of the most drastic forces that keep characters from changing.
In Captain America: Civil War Wanda is very much controlled by fear. And not a fear of anything or anyone, but of herself. When she makes a mistake that ends in the death of multiple people, her fear cripples her so much that she stays quiet in the wake of one of the most monumental decisions the Avengers made—a decision that split them apart entirely.
Her fear of hurting people, and once again becoming the villain, forced her not to act, and not to speak her voice. Her fear halted her change.
But not for long.
And that’s the beauty of fear stopping a character’s change: the characters have to learn to conquer the fear and keep pushing forward. They emerge stronger and more resilient and have a more stunning transformation after they can acknowledge how their fears are stopping them, and fight against that.
Wanda finally realizes that she can not control other people’s fear. She is strong and powerful and dangerous, and people are always going to be afraid of that. The only person’s fear she can control is hers.
And when she comes to grips with that, she is able to push past the fear and keep on going—the fear is still there, it’s still powerful, but she is more powerful, and she can fight it.
So give your characters fears so big that it seems they will never conquer them. Fears so big they completely halt their upward progress, and completely stall their change. And then let them win. Let them fight the fear, and slowly begin that transformation again.
Fear stops change, but it can also create a beautiful contrast that makes a character’s change that much more powerful.
3. Love Catalyzes Transformation
We talked about what can bring a character’s change to a halt—fear—so now we have to look at the other side of that. What catalyzes change? What pulls a character forward toward transformation?
The answer is actually quite simple: who they love.
And Wanda really loved. Every person that managed to hold a part of Wanda’s heart had a very deep, very strong hold. She loved with a passion and vehemence that swept everything else in its path away and totally and completely controlled her life. Her love was her life. And thus is was very powerful in changing her and moving her very speedily along in her character arc.
In the beginning, her love and care only encompassed her brother, Pietro. And when he was killed, Wanda didn’t even care about living anymore. But then, Vision came in and saved her, and she once again had something to live for and fight for. Wanda’s love for him pulled her forwards in her character arc toward being an Avenger and fighting in Avengers: Infinity War.
And when he died, she drastically changed—it was her love for him, and then her love for her twins, that kept her on the border of villain and hero in WandaVision, and finally, in Doctor Strange: Into The Multiverse Of Madness her maniacal love for her twins is what drove her to insanity and the murderous drive to find them.
The people Wanda loved brought her up, and then very far down, on her character arc, because who characters love is very powerful. Who she loved totally changed and shaped who she was, and it can for your characters too.
Give them something or someone to believe in and love, and they can’t help but change. Create meaningful relationships that force your characters to care. Take time to develop all of your characters so that your readers care as well. Put risks into their relationships and add weight to who they interact with.
Your character’s relationships should be one of the key things you focus on as you craft who they are—so don’t skip over that aspect. Give your character’s people the time they deserve so that who they love will bring them forward in their journey.
Fear is powerful in character arcs, but love and belief are so much more.
4. Losing What You Love Can Break You
And now we have to look at the fall, or decline, of Wanda’s character arc, because, like I said, at first her beliefs were stronger than her loves. But once Vision was gone, she was completely and utterly broken.
I once saw a quote that said, “Dying is easy. It’s living that’s hard.” And I believe that’s true, at least for Wanda. She would have gladly given her life to save the world, but having to take the life of the one person she loved, and who loved her, destroyed her.
This is the start of her downward spiral into a darker, shattered Wanda. A Wanda whose grief was so strong she wasn’t thinking straight and mind-controlled an entire city. She wasn’t who she used to be, but she was definitely progressing negatively. (For a more in-depth article on negative character arcs, click here and here.)
Like I said, love and belief are powerful in character arcs. So powerful that stripping them away can drastically change characters, either for the worse or for the better.
The people that your characters love can also affect their arcs. Consider how the death of a loved one, or a surprising fact about someone they trusted, or a betrayal, would impact your character’s journey.
Take into account all the lives that intertwine with your character’s, and experiment with how those lives can change your character and move them along on their arc. Everyone they come in contact with will have an impact on them, and how big or small that impact is is up to you.
Give your character someone to love, and then strip them away, and watch your character crack and shatter and transform into something either more beautiful, or more broken.
5. Endings Culminate Change
And finally, there comes the ending. The ending of the story, the ending of the series, the ending of the character arc, or maybe even the ending of the character’s life. Often the most powerful and exciting part of the story and the character’s life, the ending pulls everything together and wraps up the loose ends of the character arc.
Wanda’s ending was. . . not what people expected, to say the least. And, maybe it’s not her ending forever. But for now, it’s where her character arc has come to a halt.
The most important thing about endings though is that no matter what a character goes through, no matter what choices they make all throughout their lives, no matter if they’ve gone up or down in their character arcs, their last and final choice shows who they have become.
In Dr. Strange Into The Multiverse Of Madness Wanda is once again the villain, just like she started out, but this time, she’s ten times as strong and twice as evil. Or at least, that’s what she thinks, and what everyone else thinks.
But at her core, she still has a heart. And it’s not entirely broken. Her final act—her final choice—is to give up her life, instead of letting herself, the villain, win. Her final choice to still to fight for what’s right, even when everything in her wants to fight for what she wants and what feels comfortable for her, shows that she has changed.
A true character arc—a deep, strong, powerful character arc—is when a character makes a last choice that shows just how far they’ve come, how much they’ve grown, and how much they’ve changed.
So whether or not your character ends up good, or bad, hero or villain, give them that last finale that shows who they are on the inside, and what they’ve become.
Your Words Have Power
In summary, character arcs can either make or break your story. And hopefully, if you can craft these specific points and implement them as well as Wanda’s creators did, you will have character arcs that are both vibrant and beautiful, and powerful and convicting.
For your convenience, we have created an easy download for you with implementation exercises to help put into action these points so you can take your character arcs, the power of your words, and your stories, to the next level. Just like the changes your characters are going through, change can start here and now for you and your writing.
And remember, all you’re doing is mimicking the real-life stories around you. (Here’s an article more on mimicking.) All character arcs really are imitations of the journeys of real-life people and how those journeys have changed them.
So go give your characters some change and drama and transformation, and relish that feeling of power as you watch their lives take shape in front of your eyes. You, right now, have the ability to really influence the lives of your readers, and maybe even affect their journeys.
Don’t waste this opportunity.
2 replies added
I will always love Wanda’s character, even if she was a villain for the better portion of Multiverse of Madness. Loved this article! 😀
I love this breakdown! Wanda is such a fascinating character and one of my favorites, so getting to see her analyzed further was so neat! I especially love your point about forcing characters to face and conquer their fear, that helped solidify certain points of the character arc in my head.