Story Arc Workshop

We’re a week into NaNoWriMo! How’s your novel going? If you’re following the 1667 a day word count, you’ll be at 11,669 by the end of today!

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As a side note I have no idea who to credit for the above image. If you do please let me know!

Today is going to be a story arc workshop. We’ve gone over outlines…a lot. I think I mention them in almost every blog topic. What can I say? I’m a recent (relatively) convert to outlines and I’m a big fan. Story arcs are different than outlines, however, but are still a way to build your story from the ground up. It’s another approach as well as a map to see how everything flows from one event to the next. To plan out story arcs you need to think about your entire story. Arcs serve a purpose in that they give your readers a climax, time to relax, and a wrapped up ending.

I’m going to cover how to view and possibly fix your current story arc and how to create a basic one if you’ve only just started with an idea.

If Your Basic Story Is Finished

As an outline, rough draft, or otherwise.

To begin, and this may seem silly, let’s think of what an actual arc is. It’s this:

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As you can see there’s a beginning, climax, and ending. This is also an incredibly basic arc. Most novels will have an arc that looks closer to a heart monitor. Like this:

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An exercise I suggest is to get a piece of paper and a pencil and go over your completed outline. Make three lines. A lower, middle, and higher line to represent lulls or lows, climaxes, and scenes that move along the story but aren’t a by the seat of your pants moment. Make a dot for each scene or chapter on those lines in order like this:

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Sometimes it can really help to have a visual representation of your story’s highs and lows. You can see how to create a better flow for your story this way as well. So, you see how your story currently is. Consider why it might look that way. Do you like it this way? If so, awesome! If not, now is the time to fix it! Even if you’ve already written it, there’s no time like the present. Just keep in mind if you have a climax once a chapter it can wear a reader down. Think of cheesy soap operas and how every episode there is a shocker! It gets old after a while and even predictable if you do it too much.

So where to begin? First, are you writing a series? Is your novel a stand alone story? Sometimes you have novels that have both. An underlying main story happening in the background while in the forefront your characters deal with current issues. It’s always good to plant from the beginning. Yes, I meant to say plant. I mean plant the building blocks of your series finale at the beginning. If you’re writing a series then your story arc will want to look similar to this:

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Taadaa! To me this is a thing of beauty. Of course your novels don’t have to look like this ideal shape of an arc. They can look however you want. You may want to begin your novel with an action sequence that gets the reader involved immediately. Which would look like this:

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Or you may want a traditional beginning in which you build upon your world a bit before getting the adventure started.

If your arc looks like this:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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You may want to reconsider your scenes and chapters. I won’t say it’s wrong though! Sometimes it can take an entire novel to set up the events of the second and third novels in your series. However, if you want readers to pick up that second and third book it’s best to have highs and lows to balance it out.

If Your Story Is Just An Idea, A Place, A Person

If you haven’t gotten your story written out in any form, a story arc is a great place to start. Some people use brainstorming. I use note cards and arcs. So, to begin, what is it you’re starting with? A scene? A person? Get out a piece of paper, or using your new super cheap and giant whiteboard, and draw a simple arc.

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Think of where you’re starting. If it’s a scene, where in the story do you think that scene is? How would you rate it compared to the rest of your potential story? Is it a climactic fight? A confession of love?

If it’s just a person, where are they? What do they do? Build up their character sheet first. Fill in some blanks.

If it’s a place, who lives there? Does anyone live there anyway? What does it look like? Why does it look that way?

Begin with your who, what, where, when, and why. It’s obvious, it’s simple, but it’s effective.

Now, put those onto your blank arc. I would start with the beginning, the end, and the most climactic moments. If you don’t have all of those, that’s okay! Just put down what you have so far.

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Once you have the basic bones of your story. What next? Fill in between the gaps. You can continue to do this on your arc, or you can move to another medium. My favorite is to use index cards. I’ll write down all of the important scenes and place them in order on my dining room table. It’s another physical representation of your flow and timeline. Continuing on your arc on paper is the same thing. If you finish up on your arc paper, perhaps you can move on to index cards for more detail. Then eventually to a basic written outline.

The important thing to remember so that you’re not overwhelmed is to build. It’s okay to start with one brick or one idea. Ripple outward until you fill the whole pond.

Until Next Time…

I apologize for my obvious drop in sanity as I made the above images. XD

Next week I’ll go into building a scene to help further your story development. As always these are suggestions which work for me. If it’s easier for you to build your story doing a hop over a pit of lava on May 27th each year, go for it! Find whatever works for you, but the point is to keep looking and keep trying new things. Keep it up and if you’re doing NaNoWriMo I believe in you! Actually, I just believe in you anyway.

Dragon Bloode: Covet is out everywhere ebooks are sold.

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