Understanding the Elements of a Story Arc

Story arc (or narrative arc) is the structure and shape of a story. Understanding the elements of a story arc will go a long way toward helping you plan and write your novel.

Typically there are a minimum of five significant events in any story. Here’s a look at what each of these events are:

The Inciting Incident is the event that launches the story. It changes the life of the protagonist and pushes them towards their first hurdle.

Turning Points are also called plot points. The turning points are significant moments in the story that add to the conflict the protagonist faces. Most stories will have more than one turning point but exactly how many is up to you.

The Dark Moment is also called the crisis. It is the moment in which the protagonist loses hope.

The Climax is when the central conflicts come to a head and the protagonist is pushed to change.

And finally, the Resolution is the conclusion of the story’s plot. It shows how the protagonist has changed since the inciting incident and ties up any loose ends.

As a writer, I’m sure you’ve heard of the three act structure. This refers to the beginning (set-up), middle (development), and end (climax) of a story. Each of the above elements of a story arc can be separated into one of these acts. The inciting incident is the beginning, the turning points and dark moment are the middle, and the climax and resolution are the end.

There are lots of ways to play around with these moments in your novel and they don’t necessarily have to happen in the order they are presented here. But regardless of how they are presented to the reader, being able to identify each of the significant events in your novel will help you ensure you haven’t missed anything important.

Identifying these events will also help during the outlining stage. If you know what these five moments are in your story, it will be easier for you to figure out what types of scenes you will need to use get from one event to the next.

Do you have any questions about story arcs? If so, drop them in the comments.

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