A story’s arc is the path it takes from the opening through the story’s midpoint and onto the ending. The opening gives the reader the presentation of events. The mid-point develops into the conflict/crisis —the moment of change, or refusal to change, onto the breaking point for the character or circumstance. The ending contains the reaction to, or the resolution or payoff of, the midpoint.
The funny thing about arcs is they happen all over the place in fiction. Characters have arcs. Scenes should as well.
- Short stories have arcs that have to do with choice.
- Novels have arcs that have to do with change.
When you are writing your own life as fiction you’ll need to choose an event to fictionalize, then you’ll need to figure out where the turning point of that event was, and then you’ll need to illustrate your character’s reaction to that turning point.
Take a look at the piece of Flash Fiction in the example. One thing leads to another from beginning to end.
- Example Toggle
The character’s state at the beginning of the piece is very different from his state at the end of the piece. He has gone through an Arc.
The guy at the back table, the one rustling his newspaper every five seconds, Bobby’d take him out first. As soon as the cop walked back to his car that annoying mother was toast. Him and his damn newspaper.
As soon as the cop got his change and stuffed that Honey-claw into his fat mouth, Bobby would rise up - slow and easy, and with a wrist flick he’d toss change on the table for the busboy. Then he’d stroll to the cash register; by that time the cop would be headed out the door. Yeah, just like clockwork, just like he planned.
“Just shut up,” he’d tell the girl; he’d lean in toward her and glance down to his waist, the butt of the .357 showing out the top of his jeans. Her eyes would widen, following his nod. Maybe she’d gasp. That would be cool. Yeah. “Keep it low,” he’d say, “and nothing’ll go wrong.”
He’d reach over the counter, stretching to feel for a take-out bag. Keeping an eye on her, Bobby would make her empty the cash drawer. His shoulder would be inches from hers. Maybe the girl would get a whiff of his cologne. His other eye would be on that stupid newspaper jiggler.
“Hey, you,” Bobby’d say, flashing the gun’s barrel, close to his chest, “yeah, you, Asshole. Get over here.”
When the guy moved close, Bobby would grab that dammed paper. He’d laugh at the guy’s shaking hands. Bobby’d tell the girl, “Here. Wrap everything in this.” To the asshole he’d say. “You. We’re going for a drive.”
Beautiful. The guy would nod, maybe more than once; maybe he’d even swallow hard, his eyes everywhere but Bobby’s face.
“Sh-sure man, no problem,” the guy would promise. “No need to get tense. It’s cool.” But Bobby would already know it was cool. Too damned cool for words.
Before his grand exit, Bobby would get hold of the girl’s wrist, over the counter, pulling her to him. He’d plant a kiss on her scared face. A deep kiss. She’d be surprised, but she wouldn’t fight him; she’d let him do it. Then she’d stand back, breathless, maybe a faint grin for him as he backed out of the shop.
Bobby closed his eyes, smiling about it all. A perfect plan; the cash, the girl. What a great combo, he thought. His smile lingered until a tremor took him, forcing his eyes wide. The collar of his neck-brace scrapped at his chin until the shaking subsided, until only a twitch remained. That’s when he heard the cop’s voice, muffled through a mouthful of donut, “That kid in the wheelchair. What’s the deal?”
“I dunno. CP, epilepsy, what’m I, his nurse?” Came her sullen answer.
“They park him here like that all day long?”
Beginning, mid-point, ending place. Can you try for that in your edits to a scene you have already written?
- Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle
Lesson Exercise 1:
If any of these three parts are unclear to you in your work you’re in luck.
Why? Because not knowing means you are free to make stuff up, to turn your life event into a true piece of fiction. You get to take your story anywhere you want it to go, to change the trigger-event by tweaking the Character. A chance to change the mid-point conflict into some event much more dramatic. To re-write your life-event’s, and it’s ending.
And who would miss a chance at that? Filling in the story arc, or creating a new arc for a character allows you to make up parts or all of your story - and making stuff up is the goal of writing to begin with.
Before you start edits on a piece of your work, ask some questions.
Where is the character at in the opening?
You need to know this because an arc involves a pole-to-pole shift. Your character starts in one state of being and ends up in another. Whether this is a scene, chapter of short story.
A pole-to-pole shift can be:
- One of action – a character is safe then becomes stalked.
- One of knowledge – a character is naïve, unaware, or something is hidden so far. They and learn something important.
- One of decision – a character is given a choice to make, and either takes the choice, or refuses it.
Where is the event or action that will move the character from her beginning state to her ending one?
You need to know this because an arc involves a mid-point. Your character can’t simply have a magic ring all of a sudden; we must see the ‘getting’ of that ring.
Where is the character at in the ending of this scene’s arc?
With scenes, there can be arcs also. You need to know this because that pole-to-pole shift must end in a new place for your character. Scenes give us those bits of movement from one state to the next. Your character ends up in a new state of being.
Look at any of your own scenes chapters or short stories. If you can’t find an arc, see what you can do it edit for one. Even the most simplest of shifts will do.
Think Action, Knowledge, Decision.