All sorts of Arcs


Patterns for narratives.

Those interested in the study of narrative fiction like to talk about ‘arcs.’ There are character arcs, where characters go on some sort of journey, either literal or metaphorical in the story. They end up changed in some way: wiser, sadder, happier, depending on the circumstances they encounter and the lessons they learn. Readers find it satisfying to follow character development, and their arc often runs alongside the plot arc – the sequence of events. When characters do not progress they often don’t feel real and we can’t invest in them emotionally.

 There is also a factual arc – the real events against which a novel might be set. These are fixed in time, although history can sometimes be subjective and writers can sometimes manipulate events to suit their narrative. Generally though, we can assume the facts are true. Writers have to find ingenious ways of getting round inconvenient real life details!

Another arc is the writer’s arc. This is the story the writer has thought up. In a detective novel, for example, s/he usually knows ‘whodunnit,’ and will plant clues to that effect throughout the book. The reader, who doesn’t know the ending, will not share the writer’s knowledge until the end. This is known as the reader’s arc – what the writer wants the reader to know, and the order in which they want them to know it. It can be very satisfying as a reader when we are skillfully taken to a place of knowledge, and can revisit the clues and appreciate retrospectively how they led us along a journey – or in some cases down some dead ends.

If we can get all these arcs lined up we can create memorable and effective stories. It’s worth plotting them on a graph to see how they work. That way we can tweak them at the planning stage.

Wishing you a remarcable time constructing your arcs!