Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pre-Writing: The Story Arc #ISWG #Iamwriting #author

Welcome back to my blog. Today I want to continue the series I started last week titled "My Best Friends: Story Arc, Hero's Journey and Three Act Structure. We already discussed what a three act structure is and how to use it when writing your story. You can read that post at Today I want to introduce you to the Story Arc and how I use it to create my novels.

A Story Arc is essential for every author to understand because without it you will lose your audience. You don't want that to happen. Readers are very picky. They know what they want and if you don't give it to them they will abandon your book for a different one. If you want to keep your audience then you need to develop your Story Arc before you lay one single word on the page.

What is a Story Arc?
Take a look at this worksheet that I found at Although it is called a plot diagram it is the same thing as a Story Arc.

I usually start out by making two story arcs. One from the point of view of my antagonist and the other from the point of view of my protagonist. You need to understand point of view before you begin this stage of your pre-writing. It is essential because you have to understand what your characters motives and goals are and how it affects the story. The antagonist and protagonist goals must clash with one another. Also there can only be 1 protagonist and 1 antagonist. If you have more than one of each then you need to go back and work on your character development a bit more.

Print the above worksheet out and follow along with me. If you don't have a printer then just copy the arc down. You don't need the labels just the arch. You will need two worksheets or two lines because you will be doing two viewpoints, the antagonist and the protagonist. I'll walk you through the protagonist's story arc. You can do the antagonist later.

We will start with the left and work our way to the right.

This is where you will introduce your character. It is the beginning of the story. Notice it doesn't take up a lot of space in the book. This is the everyday life of your character before the inciting incident occurs. Go ahead and place a few sentences there to remind you where your character is.

Here's an example of Calico's exposition:
White girl, raised by Shawnee, learning to be medicine woman, mid 1700's.

What is your protagonist's goal? What do they want and how are they going to achieve that?

Is your character's struggle man vs man, man vs nature, etc? If you don't know what type of struggle your character is going to face you will need to do more research on types of conflict.

The conflict area on our worksheet is also know as the inciting incident. This is the place where the antagonist does something to your character that interrupts their life. The character will leave their old world behind and set off towards their goal.

So ask yourself.
What is the situation that started your protagonist's journey and what is his or her goal?

You may be able to thinks of several small things that led up to this point for your character and that is ok. Not every character will accept their calling when first presented with it. We'll talk more about this when we cover The Hero's Journey. For now, just pick the most significant event and place that on the line.

Rising Action
This is the longest part of your story and the hardest to construct. You really need to know how your antagonist and protagonist think before you do this section. What is the antagonist's goal? What is his or her motivation? Once you can answer those two questions this should be easier to construct.

Take a look at this diagram. You will need this in order to develop your rising action so feel free to print it off or make one of your own. You only need one.

Your protagonist will encounter a series of obstacles that will grow in difficulty as he or she progress towards their goals. These obstacles are the result of the antagonist confronting your character. Remember their two goals and motivations will conflict with each other thus their actions will cause conflict. Every time your character overcomes a situation, the antagonist will push even harder.

This area is a growing experience for your character. Think of it this way: You don't learn to ride a bike without a few falls. You eventually learn how to ride a bike through your experiences.  It's true for your character as well. Your character is going to change and grow with each struggle. When your character overcomes something it will often times lead to the next obstacle. Each new obstacle needs to be harder than the one before it until you come to the climax.

When you write your obstacle also write how the protagonist overcomes and how it affects the antagonist. Remember this is a tug of war between the two characters. You want to see the rising action between both point of views. It will make your story stronger and you will have a better understanding of where your story needs to go.

We've finally arrived to the big battle between the protagonist and antagonist. This is the place where there is the most tension between the two characters. It can be described as the point of no return for your character. Things are looking very grim for our hero. He or she must face their greatest challenge yet in order to achieve their goal. Make this struggle something that seems so hard for your character to overcome that your reader will wonder if the character will survive at all.  Your readers have an emotional connection with your protagonist and want him or her to succeed. This is the point where your protagonist finally defeats the antagonist.

Be careful when developing this area. You need to make the solution to this struggle something believable for the world you have created or you may loose your reader. Also if you are creating a series you may want to imprison the antagonist or banish the character unless you plan to raise him or her from the dead.

Falling Action
Your character has defeated his or her antagonist but the story isn't quite finished yet. Remember that goal you created for your hero? He or she will encounter two or three more obstacles that will decrease in tension before he or she meets their goal. This part of the story is the place where the reader is able to see how the experience has changed your character for the better. Since the antagonist has been defeated this is the perfect opportunity for some internal conflict or minor conflicts with the supporting characters.

Your character has been through a great deal and has changed. This is the point where he or she reaches their goal but they are not the same person they were before they began their journey. This is the point of the story where the character begins a new life. You will want to show your audience what that new life looks like but not in so much detail that it takes several chapters to explain it all. Tie up your loose ends and if you plan to write a series leave something behind to tickle you reader's appetites for more.

Now that you have completed your story arch you're ready to lay it all down on a paradigm. Join me next week as I explain what that is and how it will enhance your writing.


  1. I am a total pantser, so all of this has to be done after the fact if it doesn't happen during the writing. But it still has to happen at some point.

    1. I use to be like that. I completely understand what you are saying.

  2. Great lesson on the story arch. It's always good to be reminded of the parts and how important they are. In fact, reading this finally made some of my review comments click. A lot of my falling action was cut and that's why people felt the conflict resolved too quickly. I'll have to make sure that doesn't happen with the sequel.

    Thanks for the reminder!

    1. Thanks Charity. I have the same problem with the ending of a couple of books I am working on. I'm having to make it strong.

  3. That is a very good explanation of a plot diagram. The points are simple, but good stories need all of them.

  4. Thanks Allison. I always tend to plot with Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey embedded on my mind, having discovered The Hero with a Thousand Faces in late 70's and realised that the monomyth was at the heart of so much that I devoured. So great to have another way to see where I might be going wrong.

    1. I love using Hero's Journey with the story arc and three act structure. I plan to talk about it in another post.

  5. I really like what you said about the falling action. To often when I am reading a story, it just drops off after the climax. Readers want that cool down period where a bit more happens. Thanks for the reminder.
    Leanne ( )

    1. Thank you. I think that's a problem a lot of authors have when writing their story.

  6. Allison, thank you so much for this post! It is extremely helpful. I consider myself a pretty hardcore plotter, but I have never once tried or even thought of developing the story arc from both the protagonist and the antagonist's POVs. Genius! Now that's a recipe for a more three-dimensional antagonist! I'm going to have to print out this worksheet and use it before I start writing my next book. Perfect timing :)

    1. You're welcome. I had learned that trick in graduate school. It changed the way I write and strengthened my storyline.

  7. Lots of good information here, Allison and stuff we need to know to get our stories written properly.