Story Arc. Can you see the future?

Welcome back to another blog hop, with #OpenBook. Here’s this week’s prompt.

What is story arc to you?

Oh no, not another technical prompt! Although this time at least it’s not grammar. I sort of get the idea of story arc, it’s the way a story (or series) flows and develops. For the technical definition, I had to go and look it up (again).

I found that, officially, there are eight stages of the arc.

These are: the stasis, trigger, quest, surprise, critical choice, climax, reversal and resolution.

So now I know.

In terms of how the story develops and the plot unfolds in what I write, it’s as much a mystery to me as it is to the reader. I have no great vision, no concept of what will happen in part three.

When I’m actually writing, I don’t even know what’s going to happen on the next page.

This is how it works.

I’ll see a situation in my head, a scene will play out, things will happen. There might be dialogue, perhaps it will just be descriptive. I’ll write it down.

There will then be a gap, it could be a day, it may be more (once it was a year). Then the action will start again and I’ll carry on writing it down. This sequence repeats until I get to the end of the story.

If it helps you to understand, imagine a movie or show that you’ve never seen before, you might have an idea of the plot but you don’t know all the details. You might even have seen a trailer, a compilation of the good bits but in no particular order. Now you’re watching it. You can slow the playback down or rewind and see it again, in case you missed anything, but you can’t fast forward and find out what happens next.

In the gaps, while I’m waiting for more information, I’ll get the same thing for another story, it’s as if the characters are taking it in turns to show me what’s going on in their own stories. It’s a bit like waiting a week for the next episode of your favourite T.V. show. In between, you watch other things.

That’s how I write. It means that the reader gets to the end at exactly the same time that I did. When I find out the identity of the murderer, or the smoke clears from the final shootout, whatever, it’s as much of a surprise to me to find who is left standing as it will be to anyone who is reading the book.

If you’ll pardon me blowing my own trumpet for a moment, I occasionally get reviews or comments from readers which will tell me how clever my twist was, or that they never would have guessed the killer, yet with hindsight, it was so obvious. The really weird thing is that half of the time, I’ve never noticed the clues I was leaving when I was writing. I only spot them when I read through the completed manuscript for typos.

Then of course, you come to the sequel (or prequel).

Where the arc (I can use the words with confidence now I know what it means) moves on, possibly in another direction but always following the same trajectory. Of course, I never know if any of my stories will even get a sequel, never mind carry on into a series. Some do, others appear to then never quite make it. In the end, it’s all up to the voices.

That being said, I do have several series and I can see the progression, the hero’s journey, the continuity. Everything fits together, a bit like real life. But I don’t keep notes about who did what, when. It just happens as it’s transferred from my head to the page. My conclusion is that; whoever is dictating this stuff to me is the real star, I’m just the conduit.

And as long as they know what happens next, what the arc is, I’m happy to go with that.

Let me know what you think about this week’s subject.

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8 Responses

  1. Roberta Eaton Cheadle

    I think it is quite amazing how you write, Richard. I have to keep notes about characters, especially when I have a number of them in a story, or I forget details about them and their personalities. To keep it all in your head is incredible. I have a spreadsheet for complex story lines.

    • Richard Dee

      Thank you. To me, it seems quite normal. The idea of spending time on a spreadsheet feels like a lot of extra effort.

  2. Lela Markham

    I do totally get your writing process because mine is similar. The characters tell me their story. I write it down. Sometimes I can shuffle the scenes, add description or dialogue, but if I mess with the story too much and the characters don’t like it, they might quit talking to me. I do know the end of my series — more or less. I have “the next generation” whispering in my creative ear now, so it may be another series in the making. I just don’t know.

    I do have a continuity “notebook” (it used to be an actual spiral-bound notebook, but now it’s a computer file). It keeps tracks of names, major events, where my characters were during those major events, and there’s a vague map of each of my worlds. It’s all recorded after the fact. And, yeah, spreadsheets — sounds an awful not like work to me.

    • Richard Dee

      When I haven’t ‘heard’ from one set for a while I wonder if they are never coming back. I was left for over a year by one story before I saw what happened. Somehow, I manage to keep track without turning it into anything that might seem like work.

  3. P.J. MacLayne

    I have a hard time working on more than one story at a time. I need to know the end of one before I can concentrate on another.

    • Richard Dee

      I wish I could keep to one, there are usually several jostling for attention.

  4. Amy Miller

    I’m glad you looked it up. I had a vague idea, but I didn’t know the technical bits of it. Sometimes the technical stuff drains the fun out of it.

    • Richard Dee

      I don’t miss not learning about it. I managed to fill my mind with far more interesting stuff.

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