The Story Arc
If you read any amount of the self-published material that’s available in the marketplace, you start to realize that there a lot of authors who do not understand some of the basic principles of storytelling.
One of these principles is, the story arc.
But, let’s face it…
The story arc is no simple matter, especially in a novel length work with multiple sub-plots..
Let’s start with a couple of complex definitions
The purpose of a story arc is to move a character or a situation from one state to another; in other words, to effect change. This change or transformation often takes the form of either Aristotle‘stragic fall from grace or a reversal of that pattern. One common form in which this reversal is found is a character going from a situation of weakness to one of strength. For example, a poor woman goes on adventures and in the end makes a fortune for herself, or a lonely man falls in love and marries. Another form of storytelling that offers a change or transformation of character is that of “hero’s journey,” as laid out in Joseph Campbell‘s theory of the monomyth in his work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers details the same theory specifically for western storytelling. Story arcs in contemporary drama often follow the pattern of bringing a character to a low point, removing the structures the character depends on, then forcing the character to find new strength without those structures. -Wikipedia
Sometime simply called “arc” or “story arc,” narrative arc refers to the chronological construction of plot in a novel or story. Typically, a narrative arc looks something like a pyramid, made up of the following components: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. -About.com
My Self-Test For A Complete Story Arc
When, I’m writing, I keep this little outline taped to the wall behind my desk. It is my “simplified, explanation of story arc”. It helps keep me on track to make sure I’ve covered my points of story.
- In the beginning, Life is as it always was.
- The protagonist receives a call to action through an event, a situation, a character, an act of God, etc.
- The protagonist heeds the call to action, or not.
- Obstacles confront the protagonist forcing them to continue to solve problems as they move forward in their chosen direction.
- A crisis occurs, and the protagonist is forced to alter their direction, or, face defeat in their goal.
- The obstacles become larger and more difficult
- The protagonist claws their way to finish where the denouement provides us with the answer to the story.
This is my simplified story arc list. Things you should bear in mind: sub-plots must also have a complete arc as well as primary characters in your story. This is important to remember because a sub-plot without a complete arc leaves the reader befuddled. “What happened?” your reader will ask. Have you ever read a book and thought to yourself: Man, there were a lot of unanswered questions. This is an incomplete story arc. It’s also important to implement an arc for your characters. A character that doesn’t evolve throughout a story is a boring character. It’s as simple as that. We readers want something to happen, we want change, we want a fight, and when the story says, “The End”, we want to know what happened.
Although, the story of Noah’s Ark is based on Hebrew culture and popularized by Christianity, I thought it would be a good story choice to break down the arc and discuss it. My reasoning being, that know matter what religion you are, or perhaps you’re an atheist, most everyone on the planet has heard this story. It’s been popularized in movies, television, and advertising, and it continues to be a topic of hot debate in the scientific community.
To begin my research for this article, I read the story right out of the Bible. It was then that I realized, the version of the story I remember includes details not listed in the original context. Bible School embellishments, I guess.
So, I’m going to break down the story of Noah based on my memories as a fifth-grader wearing bell-bottom blue jeans and sitting on a plastic chair.
- In the beginning, life is as usual. Noah was a decent guy living in a world gone mad. He wasn’t sinless, but he hadn’t given up on his faith in God. He was married, he had a few kids, and went about his business.
- Noah receives a call to action. God is sitting up in Heaven, and quite frankly, he’s getting pissed. He doesn’t like what he sees happening down on earth and even begins to regret creating the entire situation. In God’s eyes, the world has become one big evil mess, and he’s thinking about wiping the entire slate clean. But, he does take notice of Noah. God thinks this guy is alright. Noah gets it. God decides not to punish Noah, and maybe he’ll save some of the animals too, (as animals aren’t capable of evil). So, God goes to Noah and tells him that he’s going to destroy the earth with a flood. But, he’s decided to save Noah, Noah’s family, and some animals as well. He instructs Noah to build an ark. He tells Noah to put two species of every unclean animal (a male and a female) in the ark, and put in seven pairs of the clean animals (that’s the Hebrew culture talking there) as well. He even gives Noah the exact specs on how to build his cruise ship. God tells Noah that he is going to kill everything except those lucky individuals in the ark.
- Noah’s first obstacle is himself. Quite frankly, God’s command seems a bit ludicrous to Noah. After all, he lives in an area of the world which is dry as a bone, a veritable desert. The idea of an ark seems preposterous. He also doesn’t like the idea of everybody getting killed. After all, he has friends. So, he pleads with God to change his mind. He asks him to reassess the situation. Perhaps, there is some goodness left in the world that God missed.
- More obstacles ratchet up the tension. Noah decides to heed God’s call to action and begins building the ark. His friends and neighbors think he’s gone coo coo. They harass him, call him names, and even threaten him. Noah begs them to change their ways and at the same time begs God to show mankind mercy. He asks God, “God, if you can find just one other good person, please spare them all.” God agrees, and Noah continues on in his quest.
- The crisis occurs. Noah finishes the ark, God could not locate even one other good person on the earth, and there are some pretty dark clouds gathering on the horizon. It isn’t looking good for the neighborhood. Noah feels great sorrow at what is about to happen. But those around him continue in their corrupt ways. Noah’s pleas to God for mercy now go unheeded. God puts his foot down. The plan is on.
- Faced with the knowledge that this act of genocide is really going to happen, Noah gets to task. The animals begin arriving. He and his sons load the boat with their live cargo and stuff the bilges with food and water. The locals ratchet up their harassment, even threatening Noah’s family with death. The crowd gets more bloodthirsty. They think Noah is a do-gooder, a butt-kisser, a holier-than-thou stuck-up who thinks he’s better than them. Why would God save just him? They grumbled to each other.. But, before they can wreak havoc, Noah hustles his entire family into the boat, and God seals them in safely.
- The denouement- Rain begins falling. It rains, and rains, and rains, for forty days and forty nights it rains. Every living thing is wiped out. The earth is covered with water; even the mountaintops are submerged. Noah waits for the all clear sign but the days, turn into weeks, and then into months. Everyone on the ark is getting a little testy. Noah, decides to open a window at the top of the boat and look for land; all he sees is water. In an effort to get the all clear sign from God, Noah begins to set doves free every seven days. When one finally doesn’t return, he opens the door to the boat. Noah is joyous that he listened to God, and that he saved all these living things (especially his family), so he sacrifices a few of the clean animals to God (I guess they were spares). God is pleased. He comes to Noah and blesses him. He tells Noah to propagate the earth, and he promises Noah that he’ll never destroy the earth again with another flood. God creates the rainbow as a signature to his promise. Noah is happy as a clam, and his life returns to normal.
- Your story does not have to be told in chronological order, but it does need a complete story arc. You should be able to write the scenes from your story on index cards and arrange them in an acceptable arc.
- Writing books in a series seems to be the hot thing right now. I just finished reviewing a book that was the first in a series of three according to the author. Even if you are writing a book that is in a series- You MUST complete a story arc in each book. Don’t leave situations and characters dangling with no resolve. If you do, your reader will feel unsatisfied, and they may not read your next book.
If any of you are struggling with the concept of story arc, we at NovelNook.com hope this helps you break it down and gain some understanding.
Here are a couple of fun facts we learned about Noah’s Ark during our research. Based on the dimensions listed in the Bible, experts believe that Noah could have fit 45,000 animals into the boat. (That surprised me.)
The proportions of the boat (the ratio of length, to width, to height , as described by God to Noah in the Bible, are so perfect, that they are still in use by boat-builders today.
I am very opinionated about the craft of writing, and life in general. But… I am well-tempered with an enthusiasm for debate. Please leave comments, even the ugly ones, I dare you.
You can follow me at
I’m also an avid reader. If you desire success in your writing career, you should be too.
I’m currently reading, “The Stories of Eva Luna”, by Isabel Allende
All my best on a beautiful day in South Carolina.