This is where novel writing starts to become technical and for me where the fascination with stories as a kind of social glue starts – there is no society, past or present, that doesn’t have stories. It’s one of the things that makes us human, which is amazing.
The story Arc is a technical tool that sits invisibly behind the story to provide structure and meaning. There are different types of Story Arc, from the simple three act play to the 22 point arc used by my screen-writing hero John Truby (see Shrek as an example).
We’re using a standard 7 point Story Arc. These are the steps on the way from the start of the story to the end:
Stasis: The way things are now, particularly the way the Protagonist is now - perhaps lovelorn.
Trigger: Something happens to kick the story into motion - maybe a new boy arrives at school.
Quest: This causes the Protagonist to go in search of something – treasure, love or acceptance maybe.
Complication: The Protagonist meets one or more obstacles on the journey which have to be overcome – perhaps a competitor or a love rival (Personified Antagonist) or a situation that pulls them apart (Situational Antagonist).
Choice: The Protagonist has to make difficult decisions to overcome the complications (Protagonist decides to confronts the Antagonist).
Climax: The decisions have consequences which lead to the dramatic highpoint of the story (Protagonist actually confronts the Antagonist).
Reversal: The most important stage of all to create a satisfying story and the most often left out – Show what changes the quest, complication(s), choice(s), and action(s) have produced. These could be physical or in terms of your protagonist’s character – the Protagonist has stood up to the Antagonist and won/lost, but the love interest switches allegiance out of Admiration/compassion.
Resolution: The way things are now – Protagonist and love interest are deeply in love.
Some writers would say that every chapter, every character, every sub-plot, and every scene should have its own Story Arc. Certainly the best and most sophisticated novels would seem to meet this criteria, but it is incredibly difficult to pull off and requires a genuine understanding of story.
Here’s an exercise to help you realise if a story idea will work: Produce a simple three line plot – Premise, Complication, Climax, then build a simple 7 part story arc around it. If it doesn’t easily work, move on to the next idea; if it does work, develop it some more.