Story Arc

All stories have certain elements.  If they are missing, you don’t have a story.  The most obvious example is CHARACTERS–you must have characters in order to make the events in your story happen.  The good news is I have never known a student to leave characters out of a story!

Another important element is the SETTING.  Yeah, yeah, I know you’ve heard this before, but I can’t tell you how many student narratives I’ve read that seem to occur in a vacuum.  Please tell me if we are at the character’s house, or in an amusement park, or lost in the woods!  Better yet, SHOW me the setting with lots of sensory details. (I get really excited about sensory details)

This one is a little tougher.  Every story must have a problem or CONFLICT.  Your main character is your protagonist.  This character can have a conflict with another CHARACTER (the antagonist) as in the classic good-guy-beats-the-bad-guy story.  The protagonist can also have a conflict with NATURE, as in the good-guy-battles-the-terrible-storm story.  Your protagonist can also have a conflict with SELF, as in the bad-liar-loses-all-his-friends-and-learns-to-stop-lying story.

Remember when you introduce the problem to the reader you need to show why it is a problem.  For example, bringing an elephant to school is not a problem.  When it breaks down the wall coming through the door, that’s a problem.

Finally, every story must have an ARC, which you may know as a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Without an arc, the story is merely a boring listing of events.  The arc gives it a reason to be a story.  Think of the story arc as a roller coaster.

The beginning is when you are in the station loading the cars.  Here is where you introduce your protagonist and the setting, and maybe hint at the problem.  The inciting event is what starts the roller coaster moving up the hill.  This might be where your protagonist first tangles with your antagonist.

The rising action is represented by the roller coaster moving uphill toward that drop. You know the drop is coming, and the anticipation builds.  In your story, every event, every bit of dialogue, every character interaction must build tension toward the climax of your story.  (You absolutely cannot do this with internal thinking….I’ll do a separate post on that)

The top of the roller coaster hill is the climax of your story.  This is the epic battle, or the event that changes the world.  Have you ever in your life known a roller coaster to stop at the top of the hill?  No.  Please do not ever end your story  here!

The last part of the roller coaster ride is the downhill plunge into the station.  Your story must have an ending that wraps up the loose ends and reveals what changed in your protagonist.  What lesson was learned?  Plan this part of your story as completely as you plan the rising action.  Please get your characters safely home!

As with most writing, careful planning is more than half the task.  When a story is well planned, the actual writing is very rewarding!

On my Kindle:  Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter (one I loved as a child!)

23 responses to “Story Arc”

  1. It’s true that all stories have to have a problem, but how many problems could there be in your story?

    1. One major problem/conflict that the protagonist is trying to solve or overcome. Of course, lots of problems can pop up along the way to hinder them!

  2. I was wondering if the class could help you write a novel. Then we could be co-authors. 🙂

    1. I always get feedback from my classes on my novel, Tarryn, but I don’t let students write on it. It’s not mine that way. 🙂
      We will work together to publish a book of stories for NaNoWriMo, though.

  3. Yeah, NaNoWriMo will be lots of fun. Some pretty funny things happen in class. Maybe you could use those ideas in your novels.

    1. Like I did with Xavier’s Desk Monster? 🙂 I had an idea to write about kids going to Science Camp, since kids are always a combination of scared/nervous before hand and they all have such a great time. It would be something I could read at the beginning of the year to fifth graders. Still thinking about it.

  4. ya……….that would be awesome! It is so cool that our class,only our class will be able to write a novel!!

  5. That’s what makes us special.

  6. Ya! I have an idea for a story….maybe…. It may be an adventure or a classic mystery!

    1. I would do a mystery if I were you. I think it would have a better climax.

  7. Maybe you’re right, it would be better than a classic mystery or maybe even an adventure. Thanks Lan!

    1. No problem! :mrgreen:

  8. ya!

  9. What are you planning to write for NaNoWriMo?

    1. I think I might write a murder mystery. :mrgreen:

  10. too scary!:(

  11. I can imagine there being so many actions and one mystery leading to another……. Good luck Lan!!!!

  12. You know, I changed my mind. Now, I’m thinking of doing it on a girl who moves away to a new state and has to adapt to everything.

  13. No! Keep your murder mystery! Trust me, it will be cooler!

  14. Justin (Your last year student) Avatar
    Justin (Your last year student)

    Hey Mrs. Ulleseit!

    Long time no see 🙂 I like the story arc because Mrs. Hsu is assigning more writing assignments. Every 2 weeks she gives us a story to write. This week we have to write a fictional story on Halloween. It could be scary or not. HOwever, 6th grade is getting harder so 5th graders TRY YOUR HARDEST!


    1. Good advice, Justin! I’m relying on all you sixth graders to give encouragement to my fifth graders during NaNoWriMo this year.

  15. The roller coaster idea for a story really makes sense to me. You are building up to the climax, it happens, and then it all slowly comes to an end. But maybe you could call it a slow motion roller coaster because a real roller coaster doesn’t go down slow, it’s really fast!

  16. I think the hardest thing for a student to do is conflict. In a lot of stories that I’ve read, they give a lot of explaining and details but there is no conflict within the story. I always think there has to be some big fallout to make the reader gasp. The thing that I love is when there is conflict and the story ends in an unpredictable way. That is what you need to make a really good story. I think this is what the teachers should talk to students about to make sure that their story isn’t flat.

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