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Story Arcs

 

Story Arcs

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Back in June I wrote a post about Character Arcs (you can find it HERE). At the time I mentioned that I’d also do a post on Story Arcs ‘soon’. Well ‘soon’ has arrived 😊

 In literature, a story Arc, sometimes called a Narrative Arc or Dramatic Arc, refers to the path your story will take. It’s called an arc because that path, which travels from the beginning to the end of your story, will normally take the form of rising, cresting and falling action.

It’s the actual shape of your story. A strongly crafted and executed arc is absolutely key if you want to pen a story that will have your reader eager to turn the pages from start to finish.

 

The arc is composed of the sequence of events that take place in your story. That being said, don’t confuse the story arc with the plot.  A plot is the actual events that take place in your story. The arc is the way those events are sequenced, emphasized and deemphasized to provide the shape of your story, the rising and falling action and emotion. It allows the reader to see the cause an effect between those story events which give them meaning and structure.  

 

Story Arcs

So if it’s vital that your story have a compelling arc, just how do you make that happen? Here are a few steps

 

Decide on the TYPE of narrative arc you will be using in your story.
The most popularly agreed upon standards are these six.

Rags To Riches.  This type of story has but one movement – a steady rise, a continuous upward climb.

Examples would include Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw and Holes by Louis Sinclair

Riches to Rags. The opposite of Rags to Riches, this story arc is a steady, ongoing fall in the emotional and/or moral value or experience.

Examples would include Animal Farm by George Orwell and Romeo and Julietby Shakespeare.

Man In a Hole. The shape of this story shows two movements, a fall and then a rise.

Examples of this type include the movie Finding Nemo, and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Icarus. This arc is the inverse of the Man In a Hole – it’s characterized by a rise and then fall.

Examples would include the namesake mythological fable of Icarus and Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Cinderella. The shape of this arc is a rise-fall-rise.

In addition to Cinderella itself, examples would include Disney’s Frozen and Disney’s Alladin. (In fact you could expand this list to include just about every Disney animated movie!)

Oedipus. The inverse of the Cinderella arc, this has a fall-rise-fall shape.

This would include stories such as Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell and Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

 

Know The 5 Classic Elements of Your Story Arc.   
Just about every story arc has these elements in this order.

Exposition or Set-Up. This is the opening scenes of your story, where your characters and story world are introduced  This is also where we introduce e the story question which we will spend the rest of the story exploring. Note I said introduce, as in lay out the groundwork-we don’t need to know every element of her life and backstory at the outset, just enough to give us a feel of who these characters are whose journeys we’ll be sharing for the length of your story, a way to help your reader settle in to your story before the meat of the action really picks up.

Rising Action.  This happens once your set-up is complete and the inciting incident has set the plot in motion, and is usually characterized by conflict, complications, challenges and reversals. In other words, this is everything that follows the inciting incident leading up to the story climax.

Climax.  This is where all of that rising action comes to a head, where it reaches critical mass. It should be where tensions are highest and should also be the most exciting moment in your book. It’s here that your protagonist has to make a crucial decision that will drive the story on through the falling action and to its final resolution.

Falling Action. Now that the Climax is behind you, this is where you show the fallout, either positive or negative, where the tension begins to lessen as we ease toward the conclusion of our story.

Resolution.This is the actual end of the story, where all the loose ends are tied up and where we get a sense of the lasting impact of the story events on your characters and their world. The story question has been answered and your story’s message has been imparted to the reader.

 

Story Arcs

Play Twist and Shout.

Once you have a good handle on The various types of Story Arcs, the Elements of the Story Arcs and Genre conventions, then you can play with twisting and reshaping them to put new twists on them.  

Whatever genre you choose to write in, make certain you are very familiar with tropes, conventions and reader expectations (read, read, READ). For instance, if you’re doing a take on an Aladdin story, perhaps your genie is a toddler rather than a fearsome presence. Or in your romance, instead of a meet cute you have a train wreck of a first meeting. Or you have a shapeshifter story where your protagonist can only shift into something innocuous or silly like a sloth. 

Just keep in mind, if you do play with twisting reader expectations do so with a story purpose, not just for shock value.

 

Deliver On Your Story Promise and Reader Satisfaction

Always keep in mind, reader engagement and satisfaction is key. Even when you bend the rules or genre expectations you need to deliver a satisfying story. That shapeshifter story with the sloth as the protagonist would likely work well in a comedic story, but for a serious paranormal maybe not so much. If a an action thriller type story had a weak villain or one who just gave up at the end your reader would likely toss the book against the wall.


The real world often seems confusing, unfair, chaotic – in other words, meaningless. And as people we crave meaning.  By creating the arc in your story, and making that arc your own, you can give your readers that meaning they're craving.

And a compelling, satisfying story is about change, whether that change is for good or ill. Proper use of a narrative arc is the way to show that change.

So create your story with all its twists and turns, its quirks and unexpected re-imaginings, and then keep your promise to the reader by providing a satisfying, absolutely compelling pay off in the end.

Do you have a particular type of story arc you prefer, either as a reader or writer? Leave a comment to be entered in a drawing for your selection of any book in my backlist

 

 


It's Tricky to Remember to Forget


It's Tricky to Remember to Forget
A Man with a Past
Brothers in Arms, book #2
The hero in my soon-to-release novel A Man with a Past, has amnesia. I mean he has it through the whole stinking book....well almost. He gets his memory back at the end...in the nick of time you might say! 

It was fun but I hope I did it alright. 

I've written one other character with amnesia and before long at all I just flat out gave her her memory back. It was just too HARD to remember to forget.

You don't really realize it until you start writing it, but a character spends a lot of time with internal thoughts. And in ways large and small those internal thoughts are concerned with who they are. How something is affecting them.

Sure sometimes they think things like, "When I was married to Betsy, I'd've never said such a thing." Or more mildly, "He'd decided to never marry again. Losing Betsy had hurt too much."

You can't do that with amnesia. No worrying because you were frightened by a barking dog as a child, nearly struck by lightning as a teenager, lost your parents in a flood as a young adult.

Nope, none of that, because YOU CAN'T REMEMBER ANY OF THAT HAPPENED.

It's Tricky to Remember to Forget


It's tricky to remember to forget. 

You need to re-write, revised, regularly, specifically looking for oops moments when a character is acting as they normally do which includes, tiny moments of memory, the things that make a person who they are.

And that act of memory is so fundamental to writing...backstory...internal conflict...fears and joys and strengths and weaknesses. We are trained to write all of that into a character. Well forget it. My recommendation is frequent and very specific revisions looking for a character remembering or reacting based on a memory.

A bigger issue, how does having no memory affect your personality. ARE you afraid of dogs? ARE you afraid of lightning storms. Would you be? Seriously, how deep does a fear or phobia go? If you can't remember almost getting struck by lightning, then are you unafraid? I really couldn't quite decide. On this one, I just went with my own approach but I tried to be consistant about it.

Anyway, my hero Falcon Hunt isn't afraid of anything, so that doesn't apply. 

He was a fun character to write because he talks like a Tennessee hillbilly. I'd never done a book with that strange, unique accent before and I enjoyed it. 

An example of how Falcon talks from the opening of A Man with a Past:

When a man grows up in wild country, huntin’ food, eyes wide open for trouble, he knows when he’s being watched.

And that man there, back’a him weren’t out lookin’ for a place to have a Sunday picnic.

Falcon’d fought shy of a dozen towns and wanted no part of Independence, Missouri. Ceptin’ he didn’t know where in tarnation he was going and to his understanding this was his last chance to figure it out.

So he went ridin’ right smack into that beehive of a town on his old rawboned mule to find out how to get to Wyoming. And a man commenced to following.

To a lot of men, it might be right hard to spot a single man on these crowded streets full of shops and freight wagons. Everywhere he turned people swarmed.

But staying alive wasn’t easy in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee, where a man could find a way to die near every time he turned around. And yet here Falcon stood, as tall and rawboned as his mule, proving he was a tough, savvy man and he didn’t intent to trust to luck with that man on his tail.

He intended to trust to skill.

It's Tricky to Remember to Forget


Falcon was fun to write. His main enduring skill is his utter trust in himself to take care of himself and anything else that cropped up. He had a skinning knife and his old single-shot rifle. And he has the wilderness. He can cloth and feed  himself and he isn't one speck worried about doing it.

And then a blow to the head, actually a gunshot to the head, and he can't remember a thing. And he's in the wilderness. Anyway, it was a lot of fun.

Have you ever written an amnesiac? Have you ever wanted to? Have you ever tried and gotten so tired of the stumbling blocks you just give your character their memory back for your own sanity?

Today I'm giving away a signed copy of A Man with a Past. Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing.

A Man with a Past

Falcon Hunt awakens without a past, or at least not one he can recall. He's got brothers he can't remember, and he's interested in the prettiest woman in the area, Cheyenne. Only trouble is, a few flashes of memory make Falcon wonder if he's already married. He can't imagine abandoning a wife. But his pa did just that--twice. When Falcon claims his inheritance in the West, Cheyenne is cut out of the ranch she was raised on, leaving her bitter and angry. And then Falcon kisses her, adding confusion and attraction to the mix.

Soon it's clear someone is gunning for the Hunt brothers. When one of his brothers is shot, Falcon and Cheyenne set out to find who attacked him. They encounter rustled cattle, traitorous cowhands, a missing woman, and outlaws that take all their savvy to overcome. As love grows between these two independent people, Falcon must piece together his past if they're to have any chance at a future. 

AND A SALE!!

It's Tricky to Remember to Forget


The Accidental Guardian is currently on sale in in Kindle for $1.99

Be careful when you click that the sale is still on. I noticed the NOOK book version has returned to full price so I suppose it's about over!

Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?

Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?

by Pam Hillman

Hello Seekerville. This is a repost from six years ago. But I have a good reason. My 5th grandbaby was born this week and I've been taking care of his two older sisters. Okay, it's a full-time job! Oh, and next month I'll return to my series of posts about DIY Graphics Design focusing on book covers.

I might not be around much today, at least early in the day. Mom, Dad, and baby brother should be home today, so I should be available later in the day to comment.

So, let's dive in to today's post. Some of the Seekers mentioned have retired from Seekerville, but not necessarily from writing.

Have you discovered the natural ebb and flow to your writing? Your rhythm? Your pacing? I’m not talking about the story you tell and how you tell it, but how long your scenes are. The mechanics, if you will.

Do you tend to write all your scenes the exact same length or do your scene lengths vary, coming in and out, long and short, like the tide?

I realized several years ago that I write 800 words between scene breaks. Don’t confuse a scene with a scene break. A scene break (SB) usually occurs when I change POV, not necessarily when I get to the end of a scene. It’s just how I plot. But that doesn’t mean that all my scenes are anywhere near 800 words. Some of them are far, far from that, ranging from 260 words to a whopping 1888 on my latest manuscript. I wondered if that was normal for all authors or not.

After reviewing several of my own manuscripts and getting feedback from some of my Seeker friends, I’ve come to the conclusion that varying scene length is the norm, and actually, a good thing. (Whew, glad to know I’m normal in at least one way!) But, honestly, I imagine most of you already knew that scenes varied greatly in the stories you write and those you read, yes?

But what I hope to share with you today might help you in the planning stages of your current novel…or the next one.

So, let’s get started!

If you’ve written two or three manuscripts, you probably have discovered your rhythm already. Being a spreadsheet junky, I already had my manuscripts logged in as words per scene and chapter. I knew going into my latest full-length manuscript, The Promise of Breeze Hill, that I write 800 word scene breaks (SBs). I knew the total word count needed to be about 90K. That comes out to about 112 scenes. This kind of information helps me plan where my major turning points will be.


Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?
The Promise of Breeze Hill
After I charted the scenes for The Promise, I wondered if my last full-length manuscript had a similar rhythm. So I charted Claiming Mariah, and sure enough, the average words per SBs in Claiming Mariah was 798.22 words. The Promise of Breeze Hill was 799.75 before the rewrite. Hard to believe that the word count between SBs was so close.

Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?
Claiming Mariah

So I wondered if other authors have similar rhythms? Even if they don’t chart their word count, if they’ve written very many books, they probably have figured out their rhythm. So, I went to the group I always go to when I have a question like this. My Seeker Sisters, of course.

Tina Radcliffe said that she tends to write two scenes per chapter for her category romance, with those chapters averaging 3500 words. Mary Connealy and Missy Tippens also said their chapters average about 3500 words. Depending on how many scenes they write per chapter, their SBs could occur every 900-1750 words or so. In spite of my spreadsheet tendencies, even my chapter lengths run the gamut of 1500 to 3500 words. Julie Lessman also mentioned that she’s writing shorter chapters these days, trying to keep her chapters to 2000 words.

Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?


Having the above information from these ladies was gold, but it didn’t tell me what I wanted to know. This only gave me averages. I wanted to see the ebb and flow of someone else’s work. Was I the only one whose charts looked like the tide rolling in and out? What really made me sit up and take notice was when fellow spreadsheet queen Myra Johnson send me some REAL LIVE DATA from two of her manuscripts. Remember up above that I mentioned that my average words between Scene Breaks (SBs) was 800 words and how knowing that helps me determine from the get-go how many scenes I need to plan on? It also helps during writing if I’m halfway through the manuscript and only have 30% of my words. I’m either not digging deep enough — or — let’s face it…. I’m not digging deep enough.

Well, turns out Myra’s average word count between SBs is right at 1050. Myra sent me the word counts per scene for Castles in the Clouds and Rancher for the Holidays. Castles is a much longer book that Rancher, but regardless, Myra’s natural “rhythm” held true.

And, her charts look like a tide rolling in and out. Just like mine!

I.Am.Vindicated!


Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?
Castles in the Clouds by Myra Johnson
Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?
Rancher for the Holidays by Myra Johnson

Now, if you’ve read this far, and you’re frantically counting and comparing words in your manuscripts, DON’T.

Knowing your natural rhythm might be good for some, and others might not care at all. I like knowing that I need to shoot for 800 word scenes. And since I write in Scrivener, I can see at a glance which scenes are low on the word count. Even though I ended up with several scenes under my goal, I strive to up the word count on those to at least 600, but at some point, some of those scenes just felt done, you know? There wasn’t a single thing I felt I could add to them to make them better. They were short, to the point, and didn’t need “padding” just to make them longer. Sometimes, you just gotta say what you need to say, and get out of there.

And that might be MY cue to wrap this up. So, a few final thoughts and tips.

Don’t force yourself to write like someone else. Don’t take one of my charts or Myra’s charts and try to write scenes to that length. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Don’t force yourself to write long/short/long or short/short/long just because you read a piece about it here. Do what comes naturally to YOU. However, if somewhere along the way in your writing, you find that something isn’t quite right or the pacing seems off, then checking your scenes for ebb and flow might be the ticket to unlocking a tsunami of great writing.

Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?


If you’re new to writing, don’t take this as gospel. Don’t even try to grasp this technique or emulate it. Tuck it away and after you’ve organically written three or four manuscripts, then compare your own work against itself to see if you see a pattern starting to emerge. I didn’t have time to chart some of my earlier manuscripts that weren’t written in Scrivener, but I glanced over a few scenes and noticed that my scenes tended to be more uniform in my earlier completed manuscripts. I think that was my way of writing to the market and what I’d analyzed in my own reading more than to my own rhythm.

It’s also important to point out that in the charts above, there is usually one scene that stands out above all the rest. While I can’t speak for Myra’s work, I will tell you that in my own, those scenes are major turning points in the story — watershed moments, if you will. Those tend to write themselves.

And, finally, one other thought. I checked a couple of my novellas and my scenes average about 575 words between SBs. Mary also mentioned that her chapters and scenes tend to be shorter in novellas. So instinctively, our rhythm for novellas is different to our rhythm for book-length fiction. More than likely yours will be too.

Did I leave anything out? Did I confuse anyone? The floor is open for discussion! :)

If you know your natural rhythm for scene length, we’d love to hear it. And, if you know the range of your scenes, even better!



Natural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?

CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn't afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn't mind raking. Raking hay doesn't take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that's the kind of life every girl should dream of. www.pamhillman.com







Writing Subplots

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Writing Subplots

Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Today I wanted to talk a little bit about subplots.

First, let’s define what a subplot is.

According to the Cambridge dictionary a subplot is “a part of the story of a book or play that develops separately from the main story” Some call it the B Story, the minor story or the secondary story line. But whatever you call them, they are minor story and/or character arcs that support and enhance your main story line by adding texture, context, complexity and richness to it.

 

So why use subplots?

Subplots, when done effectively, add additional depth, texture, richness and dimension to your story. They do this by adding conflict, romance, tragedy, mystery, tension, additional worldbuilding and other elements. In some cases they can add critical information your protagonists in the main story thread may be unaware of.

Some of the ways subplots do this:

  • They add another layer of verisimilitude to your story. After all, people don’t live in a vacuum, they have more than one thing going on in their lives and more than one person/team of people tugging at their attention.  Sub plots can help show that interaction for your protagonists.
  • They help add page count without your story feeling padded or episodic.
  • They can help illustrate or up the stakes.
  • They can improve characterization by allowing the reader to see your protagonist through another set of eyes
  • If you’re writing a series, they can help bring in beloved characters from previous books, or introduce characters that will appear in future books.
  • For mysteries or stories from other genres with a touch of mystery, they can introduce red herrings or obfuscate clues.
  • They can help fine tune the pace of your story, inserting lighter moments into a tense main plot or vice versa, providing your reader with a breather between high octane scenes or add a reminder of the stakes in quieter moments
  • They can serve to temporarily detour, delay or change your protagonists' goals

There are others but we’ll leave it there for now.  By the way, if you can make one subplot perform two or more of these functions it will make your subplot's reason for existence even stronger.

 

Writing Subplots

Does every story need a subplot?

Of course short stories don’t. As for longer works, while there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to writing, the truth is that even stories that manage to stand alone with one main plotline can benefit from having a subplot or two, for all the reasons listed above.

 

So let’s dig into the various Types of Subplots

  • Romantic Subplots
    If you’re writing a romance, you can add a secondary romance between Secondary characters. This is often seen in Hallmark movies, the heroine’s best friend finds love while the main characters are still dancing around the issue.
    If you’re writing any other genre, adding a love interest for your protagonist as a subplot can add interest and complications to your main plot

  • Mirror Subplots
    These are subplots that are similar to or ‘mirror’ some aspect of the protagonists story arc. This is one way to show the stakes. For instance perhaps you have a protagonist who is standing up to a corrupt land developer as is his neighbor. If his neighbor has his home burned to the ground, that graphically illustrates the kind of stakes the protagonist is facing

  • Contrast Subplots
    The opposite of Mirror Subplots, these show what happens when a secondary character makes different choices than your main character. For instance, your protagonist might have chosen to go into the family business after high school, while his brother chose to head to college across the country. Your subplot could illustrate the consequences, positive and/or negative, of those choices.

  • Complicative Subplots
    Subplots that get in the way of your protagonists achieving their goals are a great way to keep the tension and conflict high and the reader turning the pages.

  • Comedic Subplot
    This is a subplot that is intended to lighten the mood and give the reader a chance to smile or take a breath from whatever is happening in the main storyline. Take care when crafting this type of subplot – the timing, genre and overall tone of the story needs to be carefully considered when deciding if your comedic element is appropriate.

  • Character Revelation
    These subplots reveal additional attributes of your story’s protagonists. They can show
    • Character Flaws
    • Character Strengths
    • Character Backstory

 

Writing Subplots

How to craft your subplot

The number one thing to remember is that the subplot is just that – subordinate to the main plot. Its sole purpose is to enhance some aspect of the main plot. There should never be any confusion as to which is the main plot and you will want to wrap up all of your subplot threads before the main plot. The only exception to this is the subplot that is going to arc over several books in a series.

Craft your subplot as a mini-story in its own right with an arc of its own – it should have a beginning, middle and end of its own.

Make certain you know how your subplot ties into your  main plot. It can run parallel to it, weave in and out of it or be plopped in in one chunk. Any of these methods can work as long as it does its job of enhancing the main story line.

The timing of introducing and ending your subplots are important to the pacing of your story. You want to maintain the momentum and page turning aspect as much as possible. When the main plot line slows or lags, introducing or returning to a subplot can propel your reader forward.

Make sure you understand the purpose of your subplot. How will it relate to and enhance your main plot. What questions will it raise and/or answer for your protagonists and their goals.

Also make certain the subplot is necessary. Does the function it performs require a subplot or could it b handled more effectively in a different way?

 

As for the mechanics, as I was researching tis topic, I discover that some writers plot (at a high level) the main plot and each subplot separately, treating each subplot as a separate, simpler story. Once that’s done then they take each subplot, break it into scenes and then see where those scenes fit within the main story. I’ve never actually approached plotting this way, but I find the idea intriguing and may just try it next time I begin plotting a story.

 

Final Thoughts

There’s a whole lot more than can be said about subplots but I’ll leave it there.

I’ve heard subplots described as connective tissue for your story and  I like that description. If you look up the medical aspects of connective tissue  you’ll find this: The five major functions of connective tissue include: 

  • binding and supporting other tissue in the body, 
  • protecting, 
  • insulating, 
  • storing reserve fuel, and 
  • transporting substances within the body. 

If you replace the word body with the word story you’ll see that subplots can do all of those things.

So when planning your next story, give some careful consideration to what subplots can do if you deliberately and effectively weave them into the fabric of your story (and yes, I know I missed my metaphors)

 

Writing Subplots

So let's hear from you. Do you like having subplots in a story?. Can you think of other functions subplots perform or other tips and tricks for crafting them? Do you have a favorite kind of subplot?

Comment to get your name in the hat for your selection of any book in my backlist.


Story ArcsIt's Tricky to Remember to ForgetNatural Ebb and Flow: What's Your Word Count?Writing Subplots

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