Posted On January 5, 2015 by Print This Post

Guardians of the Galaxy Powered by the Character Arc with Corrina Lawson

Happy 2015, RU Crew!

Author Corrina Lawson talks about character arcs in movies and how you can use these examples as tools for character development in your stories.

Welcome to RU, Corrina!

Guardians of the Galaxy became a monster hit this year, a fun, thrill-ride of a movie that somehow made us care about a talking raccoon and a tree that speaks only three words.

But it’s not the adventure or the spectacle or the wisecracks that hold this movie together.

It’s Peter Quill’s character arc.


Years ago, when I was first writing fiction, I had the incredible luck of being taught by Jennifer Crusie. One of her best examples of a character arc that worked was Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Arc. Indy goes from stealing the sacred object in the opening sequence to refusing to even look at the sacred object he’s been searching for his whole adult life.

It’s this change in character that fuels the movie, as Indy encounters another archeologist who, like him, is obsessed with knowledge above all. Indy won’t work with Nazis, of course, but he wants to find and study the Lost Arc as much as his counterpart.

But, in the end, his counterpoint looks in the arc and Indy doesn’t. Crusie used to say that this character arc is what separates Raiders from all the imitation adventure films that hoped to cash in on the genre and failed.

Just like in Raiders, the growth of the main character provides Guardians of the Galaxy with its emotional impact. Peter Quill isCorrina Lawson a man stuck emotionally in one moment in time, the moment when his mother died. He’s grown up physically but he’s never moved beyond that moment. Sure, he’s basically a good guy, and he’s smart and tough, but he’s not mature.

That’s clear in Quill’s attachment to Awesome Mix-Tape Volume 1, and naming himself ‘Starlord,’ a nickname his mother bestowed on him. Peter’s so attached to his memories that he risks imprisonment and even death when sometimes takes Awesome Mix-Tape Volume 1 from him.

But, slowly, he begins to change. He finally sees the danger in the Infinity Stone and he wants to do the right thing and bring it to Nova Corp, who can keep it safe. He risks his life on impulse to save Gamora. He is determined to stop Ronin from destroying an entire planet, and he convinces the rest of his team to do the same.

Analyzing the team symbolically, you could say they all stand for part of Peter’s personal struggles. Gamora is the emotionally closed-off orphan. Rocket is the impulsive thief. Groot is the silent conscience. Drax is a single-minded man who only cares about his goal.

And then Peter makes the ultimate sacrifice by grabbing the Infinity Gem. He’s alone when his mother dies. But he’s not alone this time. Gamora reaches out her hand to him. As a boy, he’d rejected his mother’s dying hand. As a man, he takes Gamora’s hand, accepting that death may still come. And one by one, his team joins them.

Our heroes survive. Together.

Peter’s arc is completed when he finally accepts his mother’s death and opens the present she left for him. It is, of course, Awesome Mix-Tape Volume 2, signaling a new start in his life.

This is the kind of character arc that resonates, no matter what the genre. And it’s the kind of character arc that often takes place in my favorite romances, such as Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me.

What’s your favorite character arc, romance or even in a non-romance?

Join us on Wednesday, January 7th, when author Wendy Marcus presents: Writing What You Know…And What You Don’t Know…Yet.


CurseoftheBrimstoneContract-The-R-1The Curse of the Brimstone Contract – The Steampunk Detectives, Book 1

Magic—and love—balanced on the tip of a needle…

Magic existed at the fringes until Prince Albert discovered he was a mage. Now he and others like him are leading a revolution in steam technology that’s held tight in the grip of the upper classes.

A man of half-Indian heritage, rejected by his upper-crust, mage-gifted family, Gregor Sherringford lives in working-class London, investigating cases involving magic among the lower classes. But he’s never met a client quite like spirited, stubborn Joan Krieger.

Joan’s dream was to lead a fashion revolution designing women’s clothing suited to the new technology. But when her richest client mysteriously dies outside her shop, it deals a mortal blow to her dreams.

She hopes the handsome, enigmatic detective can prove the death a magical murder. She never expected a dark plot would be woven right into the fabric of her family. Or that cracking the case will mean merging gifts, minds—and hearts—with the one man who could be her partner in every way. If they survive the release of a soul-binding curse.


Bio: Corrina Lawson is a former newspaper reporter with a degree in journalism from Boston University. A mom of four, she now works from home writing romance novels with a geeky twist and as the Content Director and co-founder of

Her novels include The Curse of the Brimstone Contract, a romantic steampunk mystery; the alternate history Seneca series: Freya’s Gift, Dinah of Seneca and Eagle of Seneca; and the superhero romance Phoenix Institute series: Phoenix Rising, Luminous, Phoenix Legacy and the upcoming Ghost Phoenix, Ghosts of Christmas Past, and Phoenix Inheritance. She’s also is the co-writer of GeekMom Book: Projects, Tips and Adventures for Moms and Their 21st Century Families.

To learn more about Corrina, visit her website or connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

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14 Responses to “Guardians of the Galaxy Powered by the Character Arc with Corrina Lawson”

  1. I watched Guardians this weekend so I can definitely relate. Thanks for the great article.

    Posted by Carol Opalinski | January 5, 2015, 9:12 am
  2. My 13 year old son loved GOTG so much, I’ve ended up seeing it an embarrassing number of times.

    Your analysis is spot on. I felt like this movie pinged all the right things in my head and heart. I’m forwarding it to my son, who will at first roll his eyes and then file it away for future reference.

    Posted by Dana | January 5, 2015, 9:40 am
  3. My twins (they’re on the autism spectrum) loved Guardians–interestingly, they related the most to Rocket, because (I’m guessing) he has poor impulse control and feels like a freak in some scenes.

    Posted by Corrina | January 5, 2015, 10:02 am
  4. Morning Corrina..

    Just watched Guardians last weekend and LOVE it! I’ll have to say it’s probably the first time I’ve teared up over a tree. =)

    Thanks for pointing out the character arc, I always know when I like a movie, I’m just not always sure why…but watching the character grown and become is a huge part of it!


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | January 5, 2015, 10:16 am
  5. Love your point about the members of the team embodying parts of Quill’s self (orphan, impulsive thief, etc)

    Posted by Henny Penny | January 5, 2015, 12:04 pm
  6. Hi Corrina! Thanks for making the first Monday of the year more bearable. (It’s FREEZING here!)

    I finally saw GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY about two weeks ago. I was excited to see the raccoon character but didn’t count on being crazy about Groot!

    I’ve also attended Jenny’s workshops and BET ME is one of my all-time favorite books. Thanks for reminding me of the importance of the character arc. I haven’t mastered that art yet, but I’m working on it!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 5, 2015, 12:16 pm
  7. This post came via email:

    I have a lot of favorite character arcs, but at the moment, my favorite is from ‘The Walking Dead’. If someone had told me that I’d be counting the hours until a show about zombies came on, I’d have said they were nuts! However, I only get four channels on my TV Antenna (yes, you read that right), and so I started watching when I was too lazy to find the remote.

    Talk about character arcs! Toughen up or die. The pizza delivery guy has real tactical smarts. The lady lawyer becomes a warrior. My favorite, though, is the young boy in the show. In season one, he is still a kid who hangs around his mother. Then, in season two, he has matured and is going out with the men, or in charge of things when others have to go out and forage or whatever. He has really toughened up and makes his own decisions, surviving in this dangerous world, to the point where he even, at one point, suggests his father shouldn’t be the leader anymore. (His father is quite distraught over the death of his wife). ​
    Jenny Cruise is one of my favorites! Lucky you to have learned from one of the best.

    Debbie 🙂

    Debbie Curtis
    Freelance Writer

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 5, 2015, 12:25 pm
  8. Hi Corrina,

    Hugh Grant’s role in “About A Boy” is a good example of a character who starts out as a self-centered and rather hapless sort and eventually evolves into a caring person who realizes no man is an island. I’m a big fan of films, but I always find myself deconstructing the characters, the plot, and pacing. The jury is still out on whether that makes the film more enjoyable.

    Thanks for blogging with us today!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | January 5, 2015, 3:28 pm
  9. Comment from “Ruchama” that was posted under our Weekly Lecture Schedule.

    My favorite character arc is Rhett Butler. He changes from a cynical outsider who delights in defying tradition and convention and in upsetting as many people as possible in the process. He ends by becoming a lively, but much less hostile figure who appreciates the traditions he also criticizes. And Mitchell does this all without using any of his interior thoughts, leaving enough mystery and zing to maintain his attraction.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | January 5, 2015, 5:35 pm
  10. I finally got to see GOTG last week. It had so much hype that I was expecting to be totally blown away and, alas, I wasn’t. That may be because I was raised in the Marvel Universe and have very definite long-held biases among the characters.

    Your analysis of Peter Quill and his symbolic facets reminds me of the Smeagel-Frodo-Sam = Id-Ego-SuperEgo analogy. 🙂

    I must admit re: GOTG that I did completely =adore= Groot.

    Posted by Talia Pente | January 5, 2015, 6:14 pm
    • I have not seen the Smeagel-Frodo-Sam=Id-ego-SuperEgo analogy. 🙂

      It helps that I’ve seen this, oh, several times since my kids demanded I buy it when it came out on DVD. It was a tough sacrifice but I made it. 🙂

      I did once have a discussion with Deb Dixon about whether Sam or Frodo is the true protagonist of LotR. She made a nice argument for Sam but it’s clearly Frodo. 🙂

      Posted by Corrina | January 6, 2015, 6:26 pm
  11. Loved GotG and love the analysis in this post! 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing those insights!

    (And I *still* want my own dancing baby Groot toy 😉 )

    Posted by Jami Gold | January 6, 2015, 12:41 pm

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