NaNoWriMo Chronicles: Story Arcs and Plotting

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Story arcs.

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They seem simple enough, right? Draw a line that looks like a hill. Now, map your story accordingly.

Right? Right!?

I wish story arcs were that simple.

They can be simple if you’d like yours to be. However, complex plots give your story a bit more life as real-life problems are rarely in a nice arc.

So, let’s take a look at a few types of story arcs before we look at the seven common plot types.

Story arcs are, in actuality, not so different from the basic arc pictured at the beginning of this post. But, with a few tweaks, you can get a story arc that can help you plan a novel with depth and adventure!

Basic Story Arc 1

This story arc really is a very basic story arc in all honesty. There are a few differences to note that will help with your plotting and give your story a bit more oomph!

  1. The Beginning - This is pretty standard. This is where your story starts, your protagonist’s life should be normal for them at this point.

  2. The Threshold - You have a slight amount of rising action as your protagonist’s world begins to shift leading them to the threshold, or the point of no return. This is a pivotal point in your story as your character should be given the choice to move forward or stay the same. It’s the choice that you give your character that gives them sympathy points. Readers don’t connect as strongly with a character who is forced into a change as the character will lack motivation later on in the story to keep with the path they are on. However, the threshold should also do a good enough job of separating the past from the future. The character should be unable to return to life as it was before if they choose to move forward.

  3. Serious Rising Action - This is where the story begins to build speed. Your character feels as though they are making progress towards their goal as they come up on the first hurdle!

  4. Bump In The Road - This should be where a mentor steps in if your story has one. Your protagonist will have hit their first snag and will feel like all the momentum they have made until now is lost. Cue a mentor to teach them something to help the character over the hump, bonus points if your mentor isn’t the standard ‘older character who has aged wisdom’.

  5. Climax - After getting over the hurdle (or several hurdles if you are a cruel writer) on the road to their goal, your protagonist should come head to head with the antagonist. In a peaking scene where your protagonist comes out victorious, or as a failure you will create a sense of immediate action and consequence.

  6. Falling Action - The falling action following a climax should be quite quick. You can use this time to pull together loose ends from sub-plots and emotional arcs.

  7. Outro - This is where all your storytelling comes to a close. Your protagonist rides into the sunset, or is beheaded… or whatever your ending looks like. Just make sure that all the plots that are meant to close in this work do so.

Basic Story Arc 2

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This story arc, while also basic, allows for a bit more drama and back and forth play with a set of two climaxes. This is also a better story arc for long stories, such as fantasy works and adventure genre works.

  1. The Beginning - Again, this is pretty standard. This is where your story starts, your protagonist’s life should be normal for them at this point. On this arc, you have a bit more time to write about the normalcy as overall this story arc creates for longer reading works.

  2. The Threshold - The threshold for this second story arc type should be grander - and you have room to let the protagonist agonize over their choice.

  3. First Rising Action - Here we see some rising action. While not as serious as the rising action we will see later in this plot it does lead to its own climax.

  4. First Climax and Falling Action - This is the first point of turning within your plot. This is the place where the hero succeeds in the first part of the goal or fails the first attempt at meeting the primary goal.

  5. Valley Plateau - This is the part of the story where everything seems to return to normal for a bit, no matter the outcome of the first climax. If your protagonist has succeeded in their first collision with the evil, then allow them some time to rest, to prepare for what is coming next. If your protagonist has failed, then they will often refer back to where they were before to gain their footing for another try. You could also insert a mentor into this section easily.

  6. Second Rising Action - Here is your second rising action. This should be faster and much more dynamic than your first set of rising action, taking your protagonist further, faster than the rest of the story till now.

  7. Final Climax - This should be where your protagonist meets the true antagonist. This climax needs to be BIG. It needs to feel as though everything rests on this single moment.

  8. Second Falling Action - This falling action needs to be swift to match the quick rising action from before. Whatever the outcome of your climax, the rush down needs to be fast.

  9. Outro - Just like the previous arc, this is where all your ends come together and need to be finished. The only arcs or plots left unfinished here need to be ones that are playing into a larger arc, like ones found in series.

So, now you have two basic story arcs to play with and try to build your plot around. Keep in mind that nothing is ever set in stone. Just like all other art, writing is meant to break molds and find it’s own way of being. If your story doesn’t fit into one of these arcs, don’t force it.

Now, let’s look briefly at the seven most common plot types!

  1. Overcoming the Monster - In this story, the protagonist is often unfairly pitted against an antagonist of an ominous nature. Example: Clash of the Titans

  2. Rags to Riches - This story consists of a protagonist who has come from the lower parts of something and worked (or fallen) into a place at the top, whatever that looks like for that story. Example: Cinderella

  3. The Quest - In this plot a protagonist will go on a long, hard journey and they will either stay at the place they end up at, or they will be unable to return for some reason. Example: The Pilgrim’s Progress

  4. Voyage and Return - This story type is similar to ‘The Quest’ but the protagonist is able to return, either better off - or worse for wear. Example: Peter Rabbit

  5. Comedy - These can be the comedies that we are often familiar with, but it could also be in the more traditional sense of a comedy - an amusing fable where no one really dies. Example: Much Ado About Nothing

  6. Tragedy - This is the kind of story that makes people go, ‘it’s so sad, but I loved it’. These stories often have protagonists that don’t come out with a happy ending, or better off for their undertaking. Example: Madame Bovary

  7. Rebirth - These are the stories in which either the protagonist or antagonist find themselves transformed for the better or the worse by the end of the plot arc. Example: Beauty and the Beast

I hope that these plot arcs and plot types give you ideas and inspiration for your own work! I look forward to seeing what all you create!

Keep creating!