So, if you have been keeping up with my posts you will have read a brief section about creating and using a story arc. Brief it was, for the article was already so full of knowledge that I was getting a headache just writing it, never mind you poor souls trying to read and retain it, so I decided it wise to explain story arcs at a later date. Here I am! And here is a basic pull together with all you need to know about the types of Story Arc.
What Are Story Arcs?
Story Arcs, also known as Narrative arcs or Dramatic arcs, are the spines of your story.
Think about the spine for a moment. If it is pointing more or less straight up (with a wave), you’d think human, if it were curved lengthways with a sudden upwards section at one end you’d think dog or cat (or maybe dinosaur if it was big enough). the spine is what shapes the story.
The spine performs a lot of work in your body, if the spine is damaged the body does not work as it should. Your story needs a good strong spine to help keep everything moving and working in the right way.
Wait? But isn’t that the same as a plot?
No. Your plot is what happens in the story. Your arc is the path of your plot, the flow of your plot, the path made for your trainlike plots to follow. A train will not run so smoothly if the track twists and turns in every direction, the path (or arc) makes the way forward smooth.
Can You Have More Then One Story Arc?
Like plot lines a good story has more then one. But if the story is supposed to follow this one path how can I have two.
While a story works best if it follows one main arc, each individual character may have their own arc, their own little path to follow. This could be a path that helps them to discover themselves, deal with an incident that is quite personal, or find romance. This will work with the characters own sub plot and ensure that too runs smooth.
Use the story arcs to give each of your characters a moment to shine. Make sure it is not just the hero who sines in your story, that is unrealistic. For example, I shall turn to my childhood favourite Redwall, Mossflower. This book has lots of great characters, Gonff, Martin (the main hero) Constance, LogaLog, I shall focus on Constance. She’s a homey character who pulled off an immense feat of strong will and strength by running miles to get help for the wounded warrior and running back without a break and healer in tow. Martin would have surely died if she did not do this, she had her moment.
Another example that you may all be familiar withis Neville Longbottom. I’m sure you can all agree that kid shone. You wouldn’t have thought it when you first started the big Harry Potter Series, but this lad had an immense arc of his own that was well worth following.
Types of Story Arc
There are several main types of story arc, some more popular than others, some easily recognisable, others you have to think on before you can think of anything you’ve read with that arc. You can certainly find a lot more arcs then the ones below, some are nichier then others, but for the most part, these main ones cover them.
What is your favourite arc? Let me know in the comments below! Mine’s Quest.
Rags to Riches.
Here is where your main character starts poor, gains wealth, looses wealth, becomes a better person and (most cases) gains wealth back. Note: does not have to be money, money does not always make one rich. This could be power, love, strength.
Examples of Rags to riches include classic Disney’s like Cinderella (wealth), Aladdin (wealth/power) Hercules (power/strength).
Overcoming The Monster.
Your main character has to stop whatever is causing the problem or threat. This could be a single villain, an army or a force of mystical power.
A common example of this one would be Dracula, another one would be Independence Day and (arguably) the Three Muskateers, although that can also be classed as a quest depending which version you read.
Taking the Main Character on an epic journey, this was my favourite type of book when I was a kid and covers most if not all of the books in the Redwall series. The main character sets out to find something, someone or someplace and meets obstacles along the way.
Examples include the Hobbit, The Lord of The Rings, Redwall, Shadowmagic, Nightlord, and s many others. This is a widely known and well-used story arc, but it is certainly not dead.
Voyage and Return.
Your Main Character visits a new world and returns with a new perspective. They go out, face challenges, return to where they began a different person.
Examples include stories like Alice in Wonderland, Wizard of Oz, We’re Back, and Rock A Doodle Doo.
Shakespeare was really good at this one. This is an arc where either the characters flaws or actions bring the downfall of the main character. Romeo and Juliet for example, I honestly can’t think of many others, certainly not my favourite genre, too human too real I’m sure tragedy can touch any one of us.
While I class that joke book I currently have in my bathroom a comedy, that is not what we are talking about here. Stories that have the arc of comedy are well written with escalating hilarity and confusing events that will eventually resolve into a happy ending.
Examples would include Midsummers Night Dream, Good Omens if you want something more recent.
In rebirth your main character is reborn. Thye will start out as one type of character then experience some kind of life-changing event that turns them into somebody completely different.
The finest example of all time in this series is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickins. (The only Dickens book I ever loved).
Called such because it literally looks like a rainbow. It starts at the bottom, it goes up as the main characters life is thrown into disarray, it comes back down as the Main Character continues life almost as if the events did not happen.
This Arc is used mostly for events in your main characters life, it is a simple arc to work with for short stories. Examples I have seen; Angel of Hope, Bards Tales, The Biscuit Warrior.
What’s Included In A Story Arc?
Now you know the main types, you may even have picked one to work with, but what does an arc bring to the table? What’s included? what are the elements? Or do you just say ‘I’ve got my arc, let’s ignore it from here on in’.
No, it has a purpose.
Here is what you need to know.
Traditionally (that’s posh for, this is the general rule and if you find any that don’t follow these rules count them as exceptions,) you will find each arc has five elements. These five elements always come (traditionally) in the following order.
- Exposition – Introduction, beginning of the story, background data. Who? Where? When?
- Rising Action – The inciting incident that starts the story. The real beginning if you like.
- Climax – The highest point of tension. The point where all your subplots tend to converge. Often times a point where the truth comes out or a choice needs to be made.
- Falling Action – Conflict gives way, start tying loose ends up. Wind down tension.
- Resolution – The end of your story, how your world has been affected, how your characters have been affected.
These fit into all your arcs somewhere, match them up with your plot lines, write them out so you can understand them and you will find this helps flesh the story out.
What Are You Waiting For?
Now you know how to write your plot lines (find that article here if you missed it) you know how to make characters (find those articles here) and you know how to create your story arc. What are you waiting for?! We’re in lockdown, there is no better time to start writing.
Do you need some writing prompts? Find me on Pinit to get a regular weekly selection of writing prompts.