How to write a dynamic character arc, with Caroline Forbes

Posted: November 19, 2012 in How to... (Writing Tips), TV Shows, Writing
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Here’s the next post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.

Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to be neurotic, with Schmidt.”

Just about any writer can create a character that everyone will love. Like Ron from Harry Potter or Lucy from Narnia. They’re fun and likeable and endearing. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But one of the greatest talents an author can have is to create a character that you dislike, and then slowly make you fall in love with them. I think The Vampire Diaries does this in a great way. Damon, especially, but even Rebekah and Klaus fall into this category.

But today we’re going to talk about Caroline.

When we meet her in season 1, she doesn’t seem to have a lot of (any?) redeeming qualities. She’s selfish, insensitive, insecure, bratty, and shallow. Although she’s best friends with Elena, she feels she has to compete with her for everything – Bonnie’s friendship, boys, and cheerleading, just to name a few.

As the season progresses, Caroline begins a relationship with Elena’s ex-boyfriend Matt. She starts to change as a result of this, but the old Caroline rears its ugly head more often than not. In the second season, Caroline is turned into a vampire. At first, she struggles with it, like all new vampires do. Her personality is heightened. Where she would have been quietly envious before, now she is furiously jealous. Her possessiveness and insecurities are even more pronounced.

But she starts to get a handle on it. She learns how to be a vampire and, oddly enough, how to really be herself. She becomes aware of her flaws and actively works to change her less than favorable habits. She becomes more confident in herself, and the rest of her personality (the good parts) shines through. She’s a strong and fiercely loyal friend. She’s one of the kindest and most trustworthy people on the show.

Caroline’s arc was well-played. It took the better part of two seasons for her to grow into herself, but it really paid off. She’s an integral part of the group now and does everything in her power to always do the right thing. She’s my favorite female character on the show.

So, how do we do this in our own writing? The first thing is to set up an unlikeable character. Pick some traits and apply them to this person, keeping in mind they need reasons to act this way. In season 1, Caroline felt she was second best to Elena at everything, and that’s why she felt inferior and did her best to have everything that Elena did.

Then something needs to change this person. They need a reason to grow and come into their positive qualities. For Caroline, it was becoming a vampire. She realized that the world was a much bigger place and that there were larger problems to deal with than who she went to the decade dance with. Though, granted, this was still a big deal to her! You can’t change their personalities completely – Caroline still has her flaws and there’s still a shadow of her former self in there, but you need to make us believe that the character has changed.

This change has to happen over time. Caroline struggled with her heightened emotions and personality for some time before she was able to get a grip on her cravings and outbursts. And when she changed, it was a marked difference from how she used to be. Even though there needs to be a touch of that “other” person still in the character, we need to trust that they are a different person now.

What do you think of Caroline? Did you enjoy seeing her change over the last couple of seasons? Is there another character you can think of who had a similar storyline? The first one that came to my mind was Cordelia from Buffy.

  1. She’s also my favorite. In fact, she and Tyler. Love those two. Love how their relationship started and daily faces trial.

    • Karen Rought says:

      I still haven’t decided who I like Caroline with better. I loved how Matt made her a better person, but I think she has more of a connection/more in common with Tyler. But I kind of want her to be with Klaus and get him to become a better person. There are too many options!

  2. EM Castellan says:

    Great post! I’m actually a bit disappointed that, given how interesting Caroline’s character is, the writers don’t use her more in the new season.

  3. […] Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to write a dynamic character arc, with Caroline Forbes.” […]

  4. […] Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to write a dynamic character arc, with Caroline Forbes.” […]

  5. I love Caroline! We call her Vampire Barbie in our house. I wish she was more involved in the storylines… her character is so much stronger than Elena, even vampire Elena, in my opinion. She went from a whiny cheerleader know-it-all to a very strong female character. And I like it.

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