Hey Battlers! Happy New Year to you! Can you believe we’re in the year 2022 and still no hoverboards? I know, disappointing. But what’s not disappointing is that we have another year of prompts and challenges for our writing adventures!
We’re going to attempt some new things again this year. One will be a brief once-monthly writing advice/extra challenge post. And the first one we’ll cover is story arc! The advice for this one is pretty standard stuff. My example I’ll give is for a novel length project (mostly because I already have one for my first published novel), but I’ll attempt to talk about the basics of a story arc as they are applicable to a short story.
Story Arcs are cool, like bowties
First, I’ll share my two favorite sources for story structure teaching:
These authors have influenced me in my writing journey a lot over the years, and I’ve gleaned much of what I’ll share in this BB writing helps series with you from writers like them.
All stories have arcs. Most of them follow a pattern that is not so much predictable as it is expected on a subconcious level. In fact, you’ve spent your life ingesting stories and probably follow the basic arc of a story without even realizing it. An arc is the track the story train travels that hits all the important stops along the way to a satisfying ending.
Every chapter of a book has its own mini arc with its own conflict within the bigger story, and short stories are more like that than a full-blown novel in the level of intricacy of the plot. There’s no way to fit into 2000 words (or even 10,000) what you can fit in 70,000. Where short fiction is more like a novel is that it still thrives on things like a hook, inciting event, actions/reactions that climb toward the climax, and then the resolution.
At a short story’s most basic there should be a
If any of these are missing, the story will probably end up a dud, so thinking about things like a hook, an inciting event that begins the conflict, a try/fail cycle of difficulty to overcome (more on this tension-building step next month), a clear climactic event, and a satisfying (not necessarily happy) resolution are important no matter the length.
A hook not only grabs attention as the first thing that happens in the story, in a short fiction, it also needs to introduce us to the main character and gives a glimpse into their “normal” world. Without an idea of “normal” we might not realize the stakes the character is facing at the inciting event where your character must make a decision to enter the unknown conflict ahead.
“The inciting incident . . . sets the story in motion . . . [while] the key incident [is] what the story is about and draws the main character into the story line.”Syd Fields
So, your inciting event gives rise to a key event, which means the point of no return. Once the character faces that key event he cannot escape involvement in the inciting event that opened up his can of worms and distrupted “normal.”
In a short story, we focus on just one (sometimes two) story lines. In longer fiction, you will often have an (A) story line and a (B) story line that run parallel and sometimes cross or diverge depending on your story’s needs. So, any conflict will be centered in your short story on that one inciting event and the plot that follows out of it. This is where a try-fail cycle will build the conflict of the story to the climax where the character will face the antagonist. Depending on the kind of short story you are writing, the antagonist might be a person, the environment, or even the protagonist’s own self.
Every story needs resolution after the climax to satsify the readers and bookend the beginning, giving the character a “new normal.” Does this mean it has to be happy? Nope! That really depends on the story and the promises you made with the inciting event, conflict, and climax.
Below is a filled-out example of my above visual story arc template. I have outlined my first book, The Beauty Thief, using this format to see how it aligns.
Take one of your previous stories or your PARK story for January and see if you can match up any of the plot points on the story arc graph!
Feel free to open a discussion in the comments below! Happy writing!