Monday, July 3, 2017

What is Your Story Arc by Victoria Chatham

The topic for our blog post for July is the story arc and how does each author decide what the arc of their story will be.

For non-writers who may be reading this blog, and maybe new writers, you may wonder what a story arc is. Don't worry, when I started writing seriously I had no idea either.

As that Ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle (367 - 347 BC), wrote in his Poetics: 'A whole should
have a beginning, a middle and an end.'  And that, in a nutshell, is what a story arc is.

In the beginning, the author introduces the main characters and the world they inhabit. If it is a romance novel the hero and heroine frequently meet on Page 1, or at least by the end of the first chapter. The middle of the book is where all the fun stuff happens. This is where secondary characters and sub-plots come into play. The heroine might have a BFF who may be her biggest help or worst hindrance. The hero might have a buddy who fills the same help or hinder role. That is up to the author. The end of the book is where all the red herrings and misconceptions are resolved and everything is wrapped up in a satisfactory conclusion.

In a romance, that would be the Happy Ever After, cunningly referred to as the HEA. In a murder mystery, the killer is discovered and brought to justice. In a thriller, you'll likely be on the edge of your seat as you turn each page until the problem, whatever it was, is solved. You may even know who the killer or bad guy is, but you still keep reading to the end to make sure.

In helping to determine a story arc, an author may work with the five W's: Who, What, Why, Where and When. These five W's were immortalized by Rudyard Kipling's poem:

I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

You will notice Kipling includes an H - the How, but this can be covered by 'What', 'When', or 'Where'.  However, these five W's have been incorrectly attributed to Kipling. Cicero, another Ancient dude and considered Rome's greatest orator and prose stylist, is known to have referred to this concept of what creates a whole. In the 16th Century Thomas Wilson (1524 - 1581), a diplomat and judge, wrote in English verse:

Who, What and Where, by what help and by whose:
Why, How, and When, doe many things disclose.

Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut used the Cinderella fairy story to illustrate all these elements as you can see in this YouTube clip at A writer will often use the same method to create smaller arcs for the secondary characters within a larger story. 

All writers are different and have their own way of working. Some plot meticulously. Others sit down and just write, hence the term plotters and pantsers. Several writers I know are a combination of the two. For myself, I start with the characters, then work everything else around them. I write historical novels, so once my characters are set I'll then decide in which year my story takes place and then search the internet for interesting events from that year.

I'll pull all this information together in bullet form, probably swap it around a few times to make sure I have a logical and accurate progression of events, and then let rip with the writing.   


  1. Excellent reminder of how fundamental the story arc is to our fiction. After years of hearing about Robert McKee's book, STORY, I'm just started to readi it now to get the full picture of story structure. Joeseph Cambell is another great source of reference for anyone who wants to get a more indepth understanding of story structure.

  2. Interesting to see how you figure out your story and then let it rip! LOL..I'd never heard the W poems before. Enjoyed your post.
    JQ Rose

  3. Very informative post. Enjoyed it.