Traveling Along A Story Arc

We’ve been traveling a bit lately, my special guy and me.  Last week we flew to Los Angeles, and this week we drove with our English friends to Mount Rushmore.  In a way, the drive to the north was more engaging than flying to the west.

In an airplane, the excitement drops after you’re done walking through security.  You step in one door of the plane, find your seat, rattle around for a couple of hours, and walk out that door in another location.  Who knows or cares where the heck you are?

When you travel by car (or bus, or train, I imagine), you can follow your progress on maps. My special man has an I-App that shows our vehicle as a pulsating blue dot traveling along roads to our destination.  How cool is that?

Anyway, in writing, I like to map out where I’m going as well.  This map allows me to see where my characters have been and where they’re going.  It let’s me keep in mind that characters need to grow and change, just as all of us humans need to do. The map is referred to on-line and in writing magazines and books, as the Story Arc.

I think most people are familiar with the concept of story arc.  My granddaughter taught me about it when she was in third or fourth grade.  However, like chess, the story arc is a simple concept that allows for dynamic, in-depth strategy and complications.

How you create your story arc has a lot of room for interpretation and execution.  I have seen how some people stick with a three-act play concept and others have gone with as many as eight steps to completion.  I think it’s important to choose what is easiest for you.  Why easy?  Because you really need to focus on writing.  The story arc is your map, but your story is really the stops along the way you travel–the people you meet, the sights you see, the places you pass by, but wish you hadn’t.

Right now, I’m working on a set of story arcs for the Daisy Arthur novels, so that I can have Daisy travel along in a few different dimensions.  These dimensions are all a part of Daisy, but focus on consistent story themes I’m using:

  • Creative writing and aspiring to publication
  • Romantic involvement and interests
  • Sleuthing and becoming more capable as an amateur detective
  • Learning to be a good pet care giver
  • Sharing skills in special needs empowerment

The cool thing about a story arc is that it needn’t, indeed it shouldn’t, follow a smooth arc from start to finish.  There are bumps in the road called “obstacles” or “complications” that give the arc a jaggedness and complexity that keep readers engaged.

How do you go about making an arc?

Let’s look at the creative writing aspiration.  First thing you notice is that Daisy has a goal–she wants to be a published author.  Goals give characters a chance to succeed or fail, but in the quest, you know that change will occur.  If you’re into diagramming (and I always am), start your arc by drawing a horizontal line across your paper.  This line represents both the goal, and the time to reach it.  I don’t write the goal on that line (but I suppose you could, if you wanted).  The line simply represents the time your story will spend with your reader.

Next, draw a vertical line bi-secting the horizontal X line (aren’t we sounding like mathematicians here).  This vertical Y access represents “tension” or “conflict.”  This is the thing that switches your story from a straight forward plane trip, to a well-traveled road quest.  The key here is to keep giving your character higher and higher challenges as he or she moves along your road to the end of the story.  Each peak your character meets is a turning point in your story, a challenge addressed, a narrow escape or other heart-stopping excitement.

Now, here’s an important part–if your character keeps hitting small challenges and moves on, you won’t have much of an arc in the end.  As a writer, you need to make each challenge progressively more difficult to overcome. This forces your entire story to escalate toward a mountain top event.

Ah.  What’s that mountain top called?  Mount Climax.  In this part of your story map, your protagonist is going to face a challenge he or she would never have been able to meet if we were still at the beginning.  This is the point where every bit of steel that protagonist has within her soul must come to the surface.  She draws on everything she’s learned on her journey, and we as readers are right there with her.  Whether or not she succeeds in her quest is all answered at the climax.

The last part of the arc is called the Denouement. The word comes from the French for untying a knot–or tying up loose ends.  Although some may see this as a necessary evil, I see it as the dessert to a great meal–the pie a la mode in that diner you’ve stopped in along the way.  The denouement allows you to say, “yes, this is how it should be.”  You end on a satisfied note.

Now, there are two keys to a denouement in a story arc.  First, keep it short.  The main action is over, most questions have been resolved, so wrap up and get out, so your reader has no chance to get bored.

The second point for a denouement, is to make sure you’ve wrapped up all the loose ends in your story.  You can hint at the resolutions, or you can hammer them home without a doubt, just make sure your reader isn’t given the chance to say, “but what about…?”

And here’s an intriguing last point–even though your novel follows a story arc, and is a complete work of art on its own, your first book is only the first “obstacle” in a much larger arc called a “trilogy” or a “series.”  How cool is that?

Have fun plotting away the day.

 

Quick Word from Los Angeles

Hi Reading Friends,

Thanks for checking out my blog today. I am in Los Angeles to visit my daughter who is setting up a dental practice here.  Things are so exciting!  If you live near Hollywood and La Brea in Hollywood California, be sure to look for Balance Dental beginning in October.

Meanwhile, I am personally hovered over a small table in a temporary room getting intermittent internet service.  However, the service person just left, and our internet speed is back to normal, so, if all goes well, we are in business, so to speak.  Still, memories of holding wads of tinfoil around old television antennae keep popping into my head.

Won’t keep you long, as I need to run.  There are logos to develop and corporate ID kits as well as lease papers and bank accounts to all be squeezed into days along with fillings, cleanings and other important parts of dental care.  I am learning more than I ever wanted to know about teeth!

Have a great day.  Hope to be more complete next week.

As Jody Thomas said at our conference:  WRITE ON, WRITERS, WRITE ON!

 

The RMFW Pen Award: Mightier Than I Can Say

Hi Everybody,

Please understand that this is the last of my work-daily posts.  Beginning next week, please look for fresh posts each Wednesday.  Thanks for checking out my blog!  – Liesa

THE PEN AWARD

After literally years of working on a project, it might seem like a small token of acknowledgement, this Pen Award.  I mean, who can’t go out to an office supply store and buy enough pens to keep you writing for months to come?  Who even uses a pen to do serious writing any more anyway?  How come they don’t hand out a Laptop Award?  Really! Now that would be a prize.

RMFW Pen Award

Well worth the work and wait, the Pen Award!

For those who think like this, I’m sorry for you.  Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers takes time out each year to officially congratulate those who have had both emotional and financial recognition for their work in the form of a contract and or launch of their first published book.

The Award is, to me, the pinnacle of recognition for work an author, her writing group, her agent and or editor, and the publishing world have pulled together in an effort to inform, educate, entertain or persuade their community to a higher level of existence.  No one author can be a success on his or her own, and while that author might humbly receive the official recognition, they are only being honest when they say, “I couldn’t have achieved this without you.”

I mean, could you really see Eli Manning lead the New York Giants to a Superbowl victory without his linemen?

THE BIG NIGHT

Okay, so how did it feel to receive a Pen Award as recognition for having my first book published?  FANTASTIC!  What, you can’t hear me shouting even now?  It’s like having seven birthday parties at one time, or the most delicious ice cream sundae without having to worry about the calories after.

Funny thing is, the evening I was going to receive this (no, you can’t surprise an author with the award–she knows when she’s had her first book accepted for publication),  I went to my hotel room for a quick nap and woke late for the event. Truly!  A headache had crept up on me during the day, so I took a couple of aspirin and slept through the alarm I’d set.  It was only a by a few minutes, but still left me hopping.

Threw on my special little black and gray dress, did up the make-up and hair, then flew down to the dinner just in time.  Then, as I sat down to eat, a friend walked up behind me to let me know–I forgot to button the top buttons on my dress.  Goodness!  I can be such an air-head at times. Theresa fumbled with the tiny things, and put me in presentable shape, so all’s well that ends well.

WALKING ON

I wish there was some adventure I could tell you about receiving the award, but unlike a novel, my trip to the stage was uneventful. No one pushed out their foot to trip me, I didn’t have toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my shoe, no one shouted out the words I dreaded: “She’s a fake!” Just a nice hug with the head of PAL (Published Author Liaison), Bonnie Ramthun, and a photo. I didn’t have to give a speech or receive one of the simile contest trophies of faerie wings or anything.

NEW AUTHOR PANEL

Sunday morning, I joined two other new authors, Linda Hull and Susan Spann and headed up to a presentation platform to talk about our work.  I can see why these two authors are going to be great successes.  They were poised, funny, poignant, and everything you expect an author to be.  Me? I had fun with the microphone. I hope those there found it entertaining.

One of the questions was about a Hollywood personality and a television show I’d only heard of, but not heard about.  Talk about feeling out-of-touch!  Must be something in the air where I grew up. We Bloomfield folks seem to not be all there sometimes.

Still, after Linda and Susan helped with specifics, I understood that one might not want to be on something called “Jersey Shores,” so I piggybacked on their answers and talked about how great it feels to be appreciated by any potential reader at this point in my life.

I’m glancing over at the award now, and smiling.  One of the more experienced published authors said to me that of all the awards she’s received, The Pen Award remains her most precious.  I can see why.

Now I’m thrown back to that day in second grade when Ms. Halsey wrote on the chalk board “the pen is mightier than the sword.”  Thank you Ms. Halsey.  It truly is.