A place for Stupid Questions

The ultimate story/narrative arc

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    Andrew Bruton

    I think this follows on nicely from my previous question about plotting or pantsing…and as we have several ‘plantsers’ I wondered if the classic arc diagrams that exist had any particular ranking in the writing world?

    I have seen them in various formats: graphs, ladders, actual arcs…but whilst they are all similar I’m not certain I have yet been exposed to the full range of possible thinking on the subject of ‘what goes into a perfect novel framework’.

    Beginning, inciting incident, midpoint, climax, end. Sounds like a one-night-stand to me.

    Are there other systems? What ways can you look at how a novel must flow?
    Are there 3-step, 5-step…dub-step? versions of the writers ultimate tick-list to including everything an agent requires?

    I am shopping for a framework to loosely hang a general idea on before embarking on a whimsical journey into loosely plotting-driven pantsing.

    Has anyone got any useful ideas on who the big-hitters are in terms of setting out your story?

    This is going to be the question that actually gets me physically writing again because you’ve already enabled me to see the ‘show’ issue much more clearly than ever before and I no longer have to beat myself over the head with bricks if I’m not plotting to the tiniest detail…..the Den has been more effective than you can imagine.



    I always sit in on these ‘story arc’ kinds of sessions in the hope I’ll find one that works for me. I never have…

    I do have two that help remind me of the essentials though.

    The triangle…I learnt it on the self edit course (now run by Jericho Writers) and blogged about it here: https://squidgesscribbles.blogspot.com/2013/10/knitting-socksand-how-it-helps-writing.html

    The story mountain…I work with kids in the main, and the story mountain helps me to visualise setting the scene (the lowlands), increasing the action/tension/problems etc for the MC (climbing so far before dropping down a bit and climbing the next stretch until finally you reach the top (climax). Then the descent is much steeper as everything is resolved more quickly. (Resolution) And then you end up on the plains on the other side of the mountain because something has to change, or otherwise what’s the point of telling the story?

    Do they help any?


    I’m relieved to hear I’m not the only one to have been unable to find a theoretical how-to-plot scheme that works for them, and I really have tried because plotting is certainly what I find hardest, not being a natural story-teller.
    Screenwriter Jeremy Sheldon did a brilliant presentation at a Festival of Writing weekend, (2014?) and I’ve been looking for his ‘Get started with screenwriting’ book ever since but it doesn’t seem to have been published – if he’s doing a Jericho presentation I’d advise watching it.
    I tend to write chronologically, then see where the tension could be improved by changing the placement of reveals (Scrivener useful for that).

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 3 months ago by Sandra.

    What about ‘Save the Cat’ by Blake Snyder, Sandra? It was one of the recommended reading books when I started Golden Egg.

    Regarding plotting, I use the 7 Cs as a framework:
    Connection to character – introduction to the character as he is now. Forging a connection i.e. why the reader should care about this person.
    Catalyst – Inciting incident. The event that kicks it off
    Choice – invitation to accept the quest (whatever it is) and, if declined, to ultimately be given no choice in the matter
    Conflict – Internal and external dilemmas to overcome
    Crisis – you know the type of thing, just when things couldn’t get any worse, they do.
    Climax – Speaks for itself, really
    Change – evidence of growth. Who your character is now compared to who he was at the beginning.


    Thanks Sea – not heard of the ‘7 Cs’ but it makes perfect sense. Perhaps it is that it can’t be immediately applied from the start, i.e. you (meaning one, and definitely I) have to write quite a lot of scenes involving character and events before the story line appears, after which tweaking into shape can take place.


    Ooh what an interesting conversation!

    I think it’s quite hard (impossible for me) to tailor a novel according to a detailed framework and I will often start with only the inciting incident, the external problem the MC has to fight/solve and the antagonist forces, whether they’re people or circumstances, then let the story develop a first draft from there. That said, however, the mid point (or change of direction or intensifying of the problem as I like to think of it) does normally swim into view early on and the climax will become clearish before I get to needing it.

    I’ll probably spend time between Draft One and Two trying to tighten up the structure but it will be more a case of checking each story ‘strand’ has a clear shape. By that I mean the main plot, all the sub plots, the MC’s internal journey and the journey of any other characters who are significant.

    The most interesting book I’ve read on story structure is Dara Marks INSIDE STORY: THE POWER OF THE TRANSFORMATIONAL ARC, but I’ve never sat down and tried to apply it to a novel I’m writing. I think my head might explode. I have found Shawn Coyne THE STORY GRID useful though. Particularly his thoughts on how different genres have different obligatory scenes and the way he analyses scene structure which I find very helpful when trying to keep the pace of a book moving.

    I haven’t heard of the 7Cs but I’d like to know more?? @seagreen? Is it part of Saving the Cat?


    I’m another one whose eyes glaze over at charts, grids, questionnaires and all the rest of it, and find the idea of forcing a story into a set framework very inhibiting. I’d come to suspect that lack of a coherent framework in my writing was one reason I’ve never got on the road to publication, but when I applied the 7 Cs to my last effort it turned out to conform quite closely. Didn’t help it to get published though…


    I think most writers are also great readers and have acquired an instinctive grasp of story structure. That doesn’t mean a bit of conscious knowledge won’t help. But sometimes you have to trust your unconscious.

    Andrew Bruton

    Once again thank you to all of you for giving your thoughts on this. I feel immediately guilty as I have close to no experience and not much to offer by way of my own conclusions.

    I agree with those of you who say that the shape of your various elements (character arcs, plot lines etc.) needs revision between drafts, and it reminds me that the idea is to do as much as you can in draft one but be ready (and expect) to do a shed-load of work to put certain things right in draft 2 and subsequent drafts. I suppose I’m still under the glittering, impossible illusion that nailing every possible element in draft one is possible…but at the same time I know it’s not.

    I liked the 7 c’s as it reinforced some things I have heard and read recently (I am a little way through Debi Alper’s mini-course on the webinar at the moment and the triangle looks interesting Squidge) which are telling me that the three main acts have a rough structure (short act 1 and 3 with act 2 doing the heavy lifting plot-wise). It’s already helped me to think of certain scenes in my writing which can fit the ‘inciting incident’ or ‘rug-pull’ and has thrown up new opportunities or ways to structure scenes and rearrange them that I had been struggling to do before.

    I crave the structure in a way so it can free me up to be creative and hang the bits in the correct. places. I have been reassured by everything people have said so far about the feelings they have regarding this process, and it ha taught me that my ideas are probably roughly in the shape of a story if I can only just make sure I juggle several other writing balls (psychic distance, POV, show/tell etc.).

    The more I speak with people such as yourselves the better I feel about the process and it seems more likely that I will be able to finish a first draft, which seemed very unlikely a few months ago.

    Thank you again everyone.

    Now I need to think of another stupid question.

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