Monday, March 18, 2019

What Are the Parts of a Story Arc?


What is a story arc, you ask? It’s also known as a narrative arc. The story arc is the pattern, or flow, of how the story unfolds. It’s the structure and shape of a story. A story arc is a tool used to help study literature, as well as to help you map out a story’s plot. Without the shape and structure that a story arc provides, your story will fall flat and become unsatisfying. The purpose of the narrative arc in a story is to give the characters (and the writer) a plan of chronological events to follow. There are lots of different types of story archetypes, or specific plans for different types of storylines: romance, mystery, suspense, etc. But a basic story arc will work for any plot line.

This plot diagram looks more like a flattened witch’s hat, worn like a beret. Kind of. Anyway, the blue circles represent the 5 main plot points. They are POINTS (not acts). Act one is from the very beginning up to plot point #2. Act 2 begins at plot point #2 and goes to plot point #4. Act 3, the end, begins at plot point #4 and goes to the very end, of course. So where do these 5 parts of a story arc fall on this new world view of a story shape? The diagram above still includes the exposition. Yes, that’s the beginning. It still includes the rising action. That’s the middle, the longest part of a story. It still has the climax, of course. But the ending is where I propose a new world order.


The Four-Act Story Structure?


You may have heard of the three-act structure, the five-point plot plan, the eight-point arc, the 10-point, and even the 12-point story structure. On the most basic level, you have to have 3 parts: the beginning, the middle, and the end. But, there is definitely more to a story arc than just the beginning, the middle, and the end. The story arc that I use is based on the five-point plot plan. It really helps me write my novels. And it can help you too. Many teachers (and writers) explain the five parts like this.

  1. Exposition
  2. Rising action
  3. Climax
  4. Falling action
  5. Resolution

Take a look at this image of a SUPER BASIC PLOT ARC.

simple diagram of a basic plot arc structure

The exposition, or stasis, is the beginning. It sets the stage for the coming action. The rising action is the middle. The climax is the height of the action. The falling action wraps up the plot. And finally, the resolution is the ending. In essence, it’s really a 4-act story structure because the climax isn’t considered an ACT.
  1. Exposition
  2. Rising action
  3. Falling action
  4. Resolution
This image (of a witch’s hat) represents these five parts of a plot arc, but it makes it look like the climax happens in the middle of the story. That’s never the case. So it’s an inaccurate depiction of the shape of a story. I had a discussion with my 9th-grade son about story and plot. He said, “How could the state of North Carolina be wrong? All the teachers teach it that way because the state tells them to.” I mean, it’s all fine and good, but YOU try writing a novel with that structure and see what happens. You can analyze all day long and squeeze things into those areas, but I guess it’s a lot like a map that isn’t drawn to scale. I explained this to my son and he said it didn’t matter if it was drawn to scale. You can still get the gist of it. He said the rising action has like 8 or 9 major things that happen, but the falling action might only have 3 or 4. My point is this: DRAW THE MAP TO SCALE.

A More Accurate Picture of the Narrative Arc


The problem is that the climax is actually a POINT. The rest are more in-depth. If you want to keep using the basic story diagram of a witch’s hat, by all means, go right ahead. But if you begin to shift it, the story diagram starts to take on a more accurate reflection of the narrative arc. Hello to the map drawn to scale!

HERO’S JOURNEY ARCHPLOT STRUCTURE



This plot diagram looks more like a flattened witch’s hat, worn like a beret. Kind of. Anyway, the blue circles represent the 5 main plot points. They are POINTS (not acts). Act one is from the very beginning up to plot point #2. Act 2 begins at plot point #2 and goes to plot point #4. Act 3, the end, begins at plot point #4 and goes to the very end, of course. So where do these 5 parts of a story arc fall on this new world view of a story shape? The diagram above still includes the exposition. Yes, that’s the beginning. It still includes the rising action. That’s the middle, the longest part of a story. It still has the climax, of course. But the ending is where I propose a new world order.

Do You Really Need Both Falling Action and a Resolution?


Yes, and no. “No” because the resolution is not a separate part of the story arc. But “yes” because the resolution is part of the falling action. The climax, the falling action, and the resolution are actually all included as part of the ending. The falling action is not an equivalent length to the rising action. Therefore, the witch’s hat needed to be squashed. The falling action and the resolution are really one and the same. The falling action leads to a satisfying ending that resolves all the conflict and ties up any loose ends. But it’s not necessarily a separate act, or point, or component of the story. The resolution is basically the final scene in the story. It’s PART OF the falling action. And all the witch’s hat diagrams of the story arc are misleading because they aren’t drawn to scale. SQUASH. The rising action (plot point 1 to plot point 5) take up close to 70% of the story, so therefore it is impossible for the falling action to take up 50% of the story! When the diagram of a narrative arc is drawn to scale, it helps you keep the story arc in perspective. And when you can tell your story with this perspective in mind, it will less likely drag on forever. Chances are, you’ll reach a satisfying ending more quickly.

What other plot maps, diagrams, or story arcs have you tried and liked (or disliked)? Share your comment here.



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