Sunday, 6 November 2016

What’s a Story Arc?

This is a phrase often used by writers to explain elements of a story, but many don’t understand what it actually means, or indeed what a story arc is.

Whenever you hear reference to the story arc, or a narrative arc, as it is sometimes known, it is usually referring to the continuing narrative path; the logical construction of the story from the very beginning and right to the end.
The best way to picture the arc is to imagine a line graph. Every narrative arc incorporates the start of the story, the major events and incidents that happen, and it follows through the rising action and conflicts, all the way to the end of the story. The “arc” reference is more of figurative thing - a starting point, which rises, then reaches a pinnacle; a conclusion, and then forms a descent towards a resolution, so in effect, it takes the shape of a curve (the symbolic arc).
But the important thing to remember about the story arc is that it in truth; it’s a representation of the chronological journey of the plot.
There’s a lot of stuff on the web about 5 point or 8 point arcs, but in reality, the arc isn’t about precise points of exposition, action, climax, falling actions etc., or indeed the over-complicated ways of describing something that is very simple. Exposition and narrative, action and climax are all necessities in writing. The arc shows the path that the characters and the story take. It follows the narrative structure and involves the main plot, sub plots and the underpinning themes, but more fundamentally, it tracks a beginning, the middle and an end. (These three sections should not be confused with a three act structure, normally found in plays. Novels and plays are very different and novels do not conform to ‘acts’).
Novels simply have parts, or sections, and the number of those parts depends on the writer and the story. Most writers tend to use three or four parts as part of their structure, or story arc. Longer novels have more.
The general story arc encompasses the following components as part of the chronological journey of the plot:
The very beginning of the story: the moment the character is introduced and his or her journey starts. The object of the story (the goal) is established.
The rise of the story - the emerging situation and character motives (which will be part of the plot), including the introduction of the antagonist.
The emergence of conflict and emotion of the unfolding story. There will be the need for the main character to overcome obstacles and major events that might prevent him/her from reaching that goal. The arc will also include emerging themes.
The middle section – the climb towards the pinnacle of action and tension, including major decisions, turning points and revelations.
The ending – the peak of action, the impending climax.The resolution, which shows the reader how and why the main character’s life has changed because of his or her experience.
In simple terms, the arc is the line of your character’s journey and how they get from one situation to another through the course of the story, and how they change or are defined by the end of it.
Writers sometimes use of physical story arc as part of their novel planning, to physically show the journey their main character takes, rather than it being a figurative or metaphorical ‘arc’ that we only imagine, as most are. This helps to visualise the story structure in a way that helps the writer understand the plot better.
Story arcs don’t just describe the intricacies of the beginning, middle and end of a story. They can also provide a tangible, physical connection to the heart of the narrative.
Next week: What are character arcs?

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