Genuine story delivers a thesis about how we writers see the world. Our underlying message is our Master Theme. At its most fundamental level, genuine story is new understanding revealed through change.
The most effective vehicle of this new understanding is the character arc.
A flawed character’s struggle to reach his true potential, framed in the context of a Master Theme—our thesis of the world—reveals that thesis to be true or false.
Change being the key basis by which we judge the results of the struggle.
In most cases, if the character changes for the better–reaches his true potential–the Master Theme rings true. If not, if the character is set in his ways, unable to change, the character has failed. <Though the validity of the argument of the Master Theme can be expressed either way, depending on the author’s approach.>
The character arc is the most effective means to engage a reader because people relate to people more than we relate to anything else.
The empathetic bond to a well written character, allows us to tap into the entire human experience, comprehending and relating to fiction on multiple levels. Every piece of the experience supports and emphasizes the underlying Master Theme–the sum of the parts equal more than the whole.
Whenever you start discussing genuine story and the necessity of complete, well-executed character arcs, there is always a voice to the contrary side; “character arcs are not required” they claim, quickly reciting famous/successful character that don’t appear to arc: James Bond, Captain Kirk, Indiana Jones, John McClane, well pretty much most action heroes… and as it turns out, most serial superheroes (more on this in a second).