Friday, June 10, 2022


Of Arcs and Standalones, Part 1: Story Arcs

This is the seventh of fifteen posts dealing with surprising things I learned in the course of writing a science fiction series.

Starting this week, we'll begin a 6-part sequence that goes more in-depth about series and story arcs, how to develop them early in the process, and why standalone stories are all but impossible to achieve in an Overarching Series.

Last week, we touched on story and series arcs in the science fiction genre. These are concepts that most authors could probably give basic definitions for, but I can't be the only writer who (before I did heavy research into both for my book Writing the Fiction Series which will be reissued under the title Writing the Standalone Series soon) was a little bit confused about them for the longest time. Before I wrote that writing manual, these two arcs had been presented to me in multiple ways, and none of the explanations quite “fit” my own perceptions in terms of story building. To really get into a discussion about why these are so important in the science fiction genre, we need to establish what both of these concepts are over my next two blog posts.

Story Arcs

In its simplest form, the story arc is an extended or continued storyline. That’s fairly easy to grasp, right? But when it comes to what this definition actually entails and how it serves its purpose in the course of a novel…well, that’s where things get murkier. In a story, an arc is supposed to move the character or situation from one place to another. Essentially, we’re talking about change here--the quest, the causality of narrative, domino-effect transformations. In a story, this follows a pattern that can be described as ordinary life in balance: The character is brought to a low point and the structures he or she has depended on are removed. Therefore the character is motivated and/or forced to find new strength or situations without these structures, and he faces his demons and triumphs. Resolution ensues, restoring balance.

Now, as I said, this story arc has been talked about a lot in writing circles, and it can come in several different patterns and have more or fewer steps to come full-circle. While all have value, I prefer a much more simplified pattern, which is based on the bare essentials that I feel allows the writer a lot of freedom to tell his story in any way that seems right to him.

Story Arc Pattern

1. Introduction

2. Change

3. Conflicts

4. Choices

5. Crisis

6. Climax

7. Resolutions

Essentially, life as well as fiction is balanced with states of emotion over time. In fiction, the emotion is generally more extreme. It has to be, because what is fiction except a portrayal of life that skips over all the dull aspects? You can think of this within the following equation, which your story will move through from beginning to end. Where you see the arrows, insert the words “leads to”.

Introduction --> Change --> Conflicts --> Choices --> Crisis --> Climax  --> Resolutions

These steps visually simplify the mechanics of the arc that should run through every story. Below, I'll sum up each step.

Story Arc Step 1: Introduction

The introduction into a character’s ordinary life, in which he may or may not be content with things as they are, gets the ball rolling.

Story Arc Step 2: Change

Change is a form of conflict and it should be internal as well as external.

Story Arc Step 3: Conflicts

Conflict is what motivates and forces the character to act. Character and conflicts develop in accordance with the character’s choices and goals and motivations.

Story Arc Step 4: Choices

Goals are those things the character wants, needs, or desires above all else. Motivation is what gives him drive and purpose to achieve those goals. These evolve throughout the story as the character modifies his actions in response to conflict.

Story Arc Step 5: Crisis

At the crisis point, the character is faced with obstacles that seem too numerous, too monumental, too impossible to overcome but he must find the strength and motivation to continue.

Story Arc Step 6: Climax

Following the crisis, the climax comes. The character must act if he has any hope of triumphing and bringing about resolution.

Story Arc Step 7: Resolution

The character wins, resolution ensues, and balance is restored although the character has gone through a radical life alteration that may or may not lead to a happily ever after ending.

A story arc is introduced, developed, and concluded within that particular story. There may be many major (plot) and minor (subplot) story arcs in each story depending on its particular length and complexity. Story arcs add complexity, substance, and three-dimensionality to all aspects of the story. Story arcs must mesh and bond in a way that makes all threads inseparable, in a symbiotic relationship. Many times, a plot or subplot helps the author control the pacing of the story, placing realistic, necessary obstacles in the hero’s path and preventing the climax from coming too soon. Additionally, story arcs must advance the story--expanding, enlarging, and intensifying as the tale unfolds.

In a series story, a story arc is short-term because it may be neatly tied-up in a single book within the series. That might sound strange, but this will make more sense when you realize that the series arc is the long-term thread running its course through every book until the series concludes. In a few weeks, I'll show a technique and examples for developing story arcs.

Next week, we'll talk about series arcs.

Happy writing!

Based on Writing the Overarching Series (or How I Sent a Clumsy Girl into Outer Space): 3D Fiction Fundamentals Collection by Karen S. Wiesner (release date TBA)

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 140 titles and 16 series, including the romantic science fiction series, ARROW OF TIME CHRONICLES

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