Fiction and Story Arc

If conflict’s the basis of drama, does it create story? Not necessarily. Returning to one of the pillars of story, if whatever you’re writing is the same at the end as it was in the beginning, you don’t have a story. Something must change. If your story’s all conflict you risk losing the reader. Humans are complicated creatures and readers will quickly tire of perpetual conflict, even in thrillers, because they don’t find it credible. People are not always at odds, internally or externally. Even during war.

Which leads us to structure. To engage a reader at all times you need to demonstrate how conflict affects character, and how this changes the story. If you as a writer have used all the tools of craft discussed previously to lead a reader into your character’s head, the reader will want to know what effect does conflict have on her and what is she going to do now? In some way she has to change, and change may affect her beliefs or the choices she’ll make, which in turn will take the story in new or different directions.

The process of leading a reader through a series of steps, in which characters change, becomes story arc. Arc is structure, one you can repeat in every scene, chapter, section and story. It looks like this. Conflict, tension, setbacks, rising tension, climax, change in character and story. It continues to climax in a continuously rising and falling arc. A story doesn’t end with a climax. It ends with resolution. Keep in mind, conflict can be internal or external or both, John Banville’s literary fiction or Jack Black’s thrillers.

This is a simple explanation of arc, since so much has been written on the subject. Structure is crucial in story-building and writers need to pay close attention to it up front.

Every story has a structure.

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