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Basics | Nuts and Bolts | Story Arc

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I have vague memories of a high school teacher trying to share some sort of formula for the shape of a story, complete with peaks and valleys. I don’t remember it and I’m not suffering without it. But there are some important concepts to know.

Even if your novel is moving at breakneck speed, you need to have shifts in tension. Everything should slowly be building upwards, but along the way you need to pepper your novel with scenes or chapters that let the reader recover from an intense experience.

When to do what comes with practice. Ways to let a little steam out of the valve are humour and scenes for character development (among others). Some of those little scenes that just give you insight are great ways to give the reader time to breath.

You may divide your books into parts, or acts. Usually if you have a very heavy early climax, and a big shift for the rest of the book, it is a good place to put in an “end part one.” All books need a final climax and most require a denouement at the end.

In general your arc should build in tension with ups and downs that do not detract from the pressure you are building in your reader. If you have a good story arc you will be creating burning need to know what happens. Of course there is an arc in a book and an arc in the series and you need to be aware of both if you're going for an epic series.

How to develop this is similar to pacing, it is something you need to find through practice. While you are developing an ear for the language you will notice some books are more fun because of the way they build tension within you. Read enough of those and it will become internal and automatic. Then you just need to bring it out in your own work, and build upon it until you have something unique to you.

You can study lines on a graph if you like. But it is far easier, more productive, and more fun, to train your brain to follow a pattern that fits your work.

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Last updated February 5th, 2018

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