ARCS IN STORIES…ARCS IN LIFE?

When you get confused reading a story and feel taken out of it, when you must stop to figure out what is going on, what do you think is the cause of the problem? A story arc is supposed to avoid that problem by being created in advance. I’ll wager that not many readers use the concept of an arc to explain their confusion. Most would simply say that it’s not good writing.

All of us enjoy a good story – and can write one – without paying attention to the technical terms associated with its arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. I’ve said before that I think narrative is an archetype of human consciousness, an inherited way of getting our hands around experience and making meaning. Stories flow out of us like water flows through rock. They bloom.

Is an arc useful to show the bumpiness of life, the ebb and flow, the intensity and easing up? Like life, good stories have more than one rise and fall, even the rather short ones. They make false starts and true ones toward resolutions that are usually incomplete, leaving wonder about what comes next in the lives of its characters. Perhaps that is why I prefer the notion of a trail not yet cut through a pathless wood, why I don’t construct an arc, build a structure, or set the trail before I begin. I will find them sooner or later. When my story confuses me, the first reader, it is usually sufficient for me to stop along the way, ponder for a few moments, and wait for my nose to pick up a new scent. If that doesn’t work, the most I will do is build a timeline for where I’ve been in order to avoid the confusions that happen when I wander astray.

Would your favorite story to tell be clarified or enriched by creating an arc? Would that help your story have sufficient order and forward motion to avoid jarring your listeners with a comprehension challenge? Or think of a favorite novelist or short story writer. Do they need a story arc because they are creating something longer than the stories you tell? Let’s talk about it. Let’s see who favors an arc or any structure made in advance to following your nose down a yet unfound trail…or some ground in the middle.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Jim

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