The About page of any site would have to be the second most visited page after the home page. Some serious time and energy is needed to write an About into storyville. Having said that, About pages are great opportunities missed and wasted by CV writing spiked with words long ago emptied of meaning such as “passionate”, “commitment” and “excellence”. So I’ll let you into a secret — the Character Arc. It’s used in literature. It’s used in screenwriting. It’s been around since Homer. Yet we don’t employ it to one’s own story.
There are three types of Character Arcs, and each one of them will breathe life into the dead facts of one’s story. No matter how mundane it may be, a character arc will make a person’s or organisation’s story a great journey of discovery. But before we go there, let’s establish the rules of writing a quality About page:
1. Know who you’re talking to so that you can tell us what we want and need to hear.
2. Don’t just lead with the facts, we need to know more about the real you.
3. Share your values so we know who you are and why you do what you do.
4. Build trust by showing yourself with a well shot photo, we like to look into your eyes.
5. Don’t make it all about you because you know it’s really about us and how we can benefit from you.
6. Tell us the story of your professional journey, explaining how you got to where you are today so we understand how you know what you know.
And #6 is the segue into sharing my screenwriting experience for mapping a character’s journey. My screenwriting compadres and I know this as ‘the character arc’. The protagonist (you, in this case) starts out as YOU_Version_1. Then something significant happens and you are forced to react. This in turn changes who you are so that you become YOU_Version_2.
As you know, none of us are still the person we were three, thirteen or thirty years ago. We all change: some for the better and some for the worse. But the way in which we change usually falls into one of three major categories, as identified by screenwriters and novelists:
Since early this year, my copywriting course students and I have explored the Character Arc in writing their About page and the results were nothing short of remarkable. It enabled them to map their own journey of development in story form, avoiding the usual chronological list effect. So I invite you to find out which character arc most accurately maps your professional journey. Hey! Ho! Let’s go …
The Change Arc
This is the classic “hero’s journey” made famous by Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters. The protagonist (you) changes from an unlikely fellow into a savior and hero. By the end of the story, this change is quite radical, with a little help from some inner strength that was “always within”.
A case study from a CWiA participant’s About Page illustrates this change quite clearly. Shae was a mother, wife, home keeper and shy friend of an out-there-kinda writer. Then hubby has an accident and could no longer bring home the bacon and eggs. Shae’s writerly friend offers her the job of editing her articles and short stories. Shae learns on the job. She gains confidence, discovers a natural instinct for structural and copy editing. After a few editing courses, she establishes a freelance editing business — the subject of her website. Now she brings home the bacon and eggs.
The Growth Arc
In this scenario, YOU_VERSION 1 overcomes an internal opposition (weakness, fear, the past …) in the face of an external opposition. As a result, you become a better person. You still remain pretty much who you were, but now you’re a more advanced, upgraded version — YOU_VERSION 1.1.
Another case study from a CWiA participant’s About Page illustrates this quite compellingly. 3 Months into being an apprentice electrician, Jurgen gets fired for being too slow because he was “too meticulous”. He’s devastated and thinks his career path has turned into the end of the world. His past record makes getting re-hired very hard sell. But his tenacity eventually gets him back on track and into industrial maintenance where being meticulous comes in very handy. 10 years on, he’s still meticulous but a lot faster and launching his own electrical business — the subject of his website. Jurgen owes it to the boss who sacked him for being where he is now.
The Shift Arc
This arc has the protagonist change their perspective, learn different skills, or gain a different role. The end-result is not better, but different. The protagonist has not overcome a grand inner resistance, they simply gain a new set of skills or assumes a new position, or discovers a natural talent, or a different vocation.
This could easily be Shae’s story but her’s is more heroic — she becomes the breadwinner and keeps the family safe and secure. A more likely contender for this role is … well … me. I start life out as an advertising copywriter who’s primary focus was climbing the ladder and gathering plenty of creative awards along the way. As I experience a more enlightened point-of-view from meetings with remarkable people, my perspective gradually changes from self to others. I design and deliver a copywriting course and offer it to RMIT. They give it a go and it becomes one of the most popular courses there. Feedback from students is standing ovation grade. I come to realise I have a natural talent for teaching. Better still, I love teaching as much as copywriting. I shift from copywriter/peacock to copywriter/teacher. And these days I write blog posts like this to copywriting practitioners like you.
Which type of character arc should you pick for your About story?
Ask yourself these 2 questions:
1. What do you want YOU to start out as?
2. What do you want YOU to be like by the end of the story?
Example — If you want YOU to become the leader of a group of people, and YOU to start out as just any other member of that group, then you’re writing a Change Arc.
But if YOU start out as the leader of a rivaling group of people, then you have two possibilities: a Growth Arc if the rivaling group are the “bad guys” and YOU learn the error of your ways; or a Shift Arc if the rivaling group are also “good guys” but with opposing interests.
We all love to see a person go through a meaningful change. The reasons are threefold: i) it’s the stuff of great storytelling, ii) we like to identify with a character that shows us how we too can overcome limitations and obstructions and iii) it adds up to the holy trinity of effective communication: story, meaning and conversion.