How to Develop Character

Existential lessons build trust and loyalty

Trend Guardian
3 min readSep 29, 2022
The wilderness/desert phase. Source

No one is stranger to life’s calamities, ever wonder why?
Both in movies and series alike, one key element keeps viewers engaged: character development. Disney+ used this strategy for its brands portfolio (Marvel, Star Wars), and the streaming industry is following suit.

Hidden Rules of Great Films delineated the rules that make films great. In Creating Character Arcs, K.M. Weiland describes three archetypes, each confronting a fight between need vs. want, truth vs. lie, good vs. evil.

  1. Positive Arc (Redemption): The hero starts with the lie, but is slowly redeemed by the truth, building his character.
  2. Flat/Testing Arc (Perseverance): The hero believes in and perseveres with the truth against lies, changing the world around him.
  3. Negative Arc (Justice): The hero starts with the truth, but is slowly corrupted by the lie, leading to his downfall.

These characters are shaped by trials and tribulations, much like our lives. As we relate to the hero, we engage in the story as protagonists. A character can therefore serve as representations of ourselves.

Series invites us on a hero’s journey- his/her character development become ours.

A positive arc shows us that flaws can be redeemed; a flat/testing arc that righteousness can prevail; and a negative arc that justice will be served. Thus, series bring us hope.

The character development journey. Source

Notable examples:
Based on the main character — all supporting characters have arcs too.
Legend: Positive (+), Flat/Testing (0), Negative (-)

  • Breaking Bad (-): Ego, intellect, and greed can slowly bring out our inner demons, to the point of no return.
  • The Walking Dead (0): A clash between two ideologies- survival of the fittest (social Darwinism) vs. protection of the weak (morality).
  • The Crown (0): Duty above passion — the queen has to uphold the monarchy above all (even family) to lead a country.
  • Naruto (0): A true leader protects its people/village, such as a parent will love and sacrifice for their children.
  • Top Gun (+): A superstar pilot learns to overcome his mistakes and regrets by mentoring the next generation.

Characters serve to remind, inspire, and caution us that we can change, and who we could become.

Here are some of Disney’s successful efforts in translating its brands into character-focused series:

  • The Mandalorian (0): Honor above profit. A bounty hunter follows his code, surviving in an otherwise dishonorable business.
  • The Book of Boba Fett (+): Haunted by his father’s legacy, the son learns the value of diplomacy and tribalism in effective leadership.
  • Obi-Wan Kenobi (+): The failed master of Darth Vader gets a second chance to redeem himself by mentoring the next generation.

While Netflix is experimenting with international markets, Disney’s differentiated strategy on characters has paid off and competitors are taking notice, creating a universe (or ecosystem in tech) for its fans to build brand loyalty.

  • The Last of Us (+): Humanity’s redemption hangs on the pursuit of a world cure vs. the protection of life (utilitarianism vs. deontology)
  • Upcoming: The Walking Dead Universe — follows this formula by splitting its characters to develop a series for each.
Protection of life and the weak. Source

Great series work because subconsciously, they try to answer our deepest existential questions: What is the purpose of life? What role do I play in the universe? What happens when we die? Especially in our times of trials and tribulations, because this process creates character.

“Just as gold is purified in the fire, so the soul is purified in sufferings.” — Søren Kierkegaard

Life is a journey to develop character.
And this change is exciting to watch.

Recommended book: The Truth Formula

Bonus: The Hidden Metaphor In Glass