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Andre Jute
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message 1: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
Kat Jordan says in another thread: "I believe that every PoV character should have a separate story-arc."

Perhaps someone will be as kind as to explain to me what a "story-arc" is so that I can decide whether it is an important tool or simply another name for a tool I already describe in Writing a Thriller.


message 2: by Coral (new)

Coral (coralm) Well, to me a story arc is the path the character travels to get from where she started to where she ends up. The idea being that no character should ever not learn from the story.

An interesting way to look at it is take any conflict situation and put your character in it. It can be something as simple as: "Joe goes to the grocery story and sees someone else pick up the last cantaloupe." How would Joe react to this situation on page 1? How would he react on page 400? Hopefully his reaction is different and how he got to the second place is his character arc.


message 3: by Andre Jute (last edited Jun 27, 2011 05:08PM) (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
Thanks, Coral.

Looks like one I already had, given a new, punchy name.

I once opened a lecture with the words, "A good way to start a novel is to take your character, ask him what his problem is, and in the first paragraph on the first page, let the reader too discover what his problem is." A wit from the back row called out, "Are you always in such a hurry, Andre?" There were about 300 (illegally) crammed into a lecture room for 80, and their laughter rocked the building. After that it couldn't fail to be one of the best lectures I ever gave. I ended with the words, "And on the last page the character solves his problem, grows up and joins the affluent middle classes. That's a novel. Don't get in the way of a black Maserati on the road to London. I'm in a hurry to relieve my publisher of money he might otherwise spend unwisely."


message 4: by Patricia (new)

Patricia (patriciasierra) | 2388 comments I read somewhere that to be good, a book must set forth a conflict -- if not in the first sentence, which is best -- at least within the first paragraph, and it better not be a long paragraph. That sounded like a crazy "rule" to me, so I went to my bookshelves and pulled down one book after another checking to see if a conflict appeared that early in the volumes. The answer? Yep.

Rather than asking a character at the outset what his problem is, I'd be more inclined to ask myself what that character wants. The problem and the desire are often different, and I believe it is desire that drives a character. The problem and its resolution = the plot.


message 5: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments 'Story arc' is one of those terms that came from TV to writing. Like "Hero's Journey" for movies. Here's a definition:

A story arc is a term in episodic storytelling media such as television, comic books and comic strips that refers to a continuing storyline. In a television series, for example, the story would unfold over many episodes. In television, the use of the story arc is much more common in dramas than in comedies, especially in soap operas. Web comics are more likely to use story arcs than newspaper comics, as most web comics have readable archives online that a newcomer to the strip can read in order to understand what's going on.

Story arcs are sometimes split into subarcs if deemed significant by fans, making it easy to refer to certain episodes if their production order titles are unknown. Episodes not relevant to story arcs are often called filler.


There is a lot of spillover between West Coast writers and the film industry. The terms are being used in a number of writer's blogs.


message 6: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments Okay - we have the technical term defined.

I use 'story arc' the way Coral uses it. It's just another way to say 'hold the head-hopping, please.'


message 7: by Coral (new)

Coral (coralm) Patricia Sierra wrote: "I read somewhere that to be good, a book must set forth a conflict -- if not in the first sentence, which is best -- at least within the first paragraph, and it better not be a long paragraph. That..."

I think this is an area where writers get a lot of conflicting advice. I had often heard that you should start chapter 1 with the inciting incident. That may or may not be the central conflict of the story.

Then I had a few people in a row offer me advice that said that I absolutely shouldn't start out with that, but instead chapter one should be about the character's "before" life. Then in the next you show how it's about to change and that's where you throw in the inciting incident.

I'm still not sure which I want to subscribe to, because for different reasons they both make sense. I also think you can find examples of great books that fit either one of those.

I guess what I'm trying to say it that all in all, the more writing "rules" I read, the more they disagree. :)


message 8: by Patricia (new)

Patricia (patriciasierra) | 2388 comments You don't have to feature the inciting incident to set up conflict early on. Example:

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" tells the reader right away there's gonna be conflict, but the nature of that conflict is not apparent. How it was best and how it was worst can be revealed at leisure over hundreds of pages.


message 9: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
Patricia Sierra wrote: "How it was best and how it was worst can be revealed at leisure over hundreds of pages."

I'd be real grateful if you could limit it to not too many "hundreds". My reading time is limited. — Da Edita


message 10: by Andre Jute (last edited Jun 30, 2011 06:48AM) (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
Coral wrote: "I guess what I'm trying to say it that all in all, the more writing "rules" I read, the more they disagree. :) "

You have to start with some "rules" but most of them can be, and should be, adapted to suit your style as it develops. In fact, a useful analysis of a writer with a mature style is "by exception to the general rule". I discovered only recently (the sci-fi writer Keith Brooke told me, so I asked some others too) that one of the things that makes my Writing a Thriller so attractive to writers with the right attitude (the ones who will survive to become professionals) is my catholic approach to ways and means of arriving at the defined end of a good novel. That's amusing to some, because as a teacher of reprographics (typography, graphic design) I'm generally known as such a hard-arsed conservative that the little "cutting edge" navelwatchers who fancy themselves "artistes" walk ten miles to avoid letting me see their portfolio, because they suspect, rightly, that their egos won't survive me saying what I really think of their work. But the novel is genuinely a very flexible medium inside which the skilled and practiced writer can do almost anything he wants, so you take a different approach to "rules".

All the same, I wouldn't in a million years advise a novice to start with the back story. It's just too dangerous. Okay, in a few months there will be ten Dakota Franklin novel, and you'll say, That Andre is such a hypocrite. Here's his protege starting almost every book in a series with a back story -- hell, she's turned it into a format. Thing is, it's a style Dakota developed by a putting whole lotta complete novels in the bin. She's 16 years into her writing career before she starts publishing; we're talking about a writer with a mature style who breaks the rules for a good reason. And I've *still* made her add short hook chapters, sometimes just a page, before the back stories except where the back story is in fact the direct statement of the problem. Also, Dakota's back stories are a) full of action and conflict so that the reader is sucked in and b) so arranged that end of the back story flows directly and naturally into current problem so that readers are carried along too fast to notice the changeover. That's very skilled stuff, an ability a writer grows into by constant practice at storytelling; if a less skilled writer, or even a skilled writer with a different developed style, tries to copy it, the result is likely to be dicey. Technically, it is an outcome of the fact that some writers can slide backwards and forwards smoothly along timeframes and others have linear minds, and an analysis of the means and mechanisms will not help either much to do a job best left to the other one.

Hope this makes sense to you.


message 11: by K.A. (last edited Jun 30, 2011 08:15AM) (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments The 'start with a car crash' mentallity came from somewhere. (I blame it on agents. LOL)

But way back when I studied creative writing there was a 'three act structure' where you started with 'normal life.'

Well, styles change.

I've been ridiculed for having a novel that 'starts in chapter 3.' So I'm going to re-write it. It's going to start with a car/motorcycle crash.


message 12: by Coral (new)

Coral (coralm) Well I think there are ways to make something interesting and include back story at the same time. The problem then becomes does the reader expect the first conflicts you bring up to be the most important ones?

My current WIP starts off with two conflicts which really are subplots that have an impact on, but don't directly deal with, the main plot. One of my beta readers mentioned that she didn't like how it worked because she thought that the threads I brought up in chapter 1 were supposed to be the most important and they were wrapped up too quickly.

Now I'm trying to figure out if I need to put something before (aka the dreaded prologue) in order to make sure the reader is on point.


message 13: by Coral (last edited Jun 30, 2011 11:20AM) (new)

Coral (coralm) K.A. wrote: "The 'start with a car crash' mentallity came from somewhere. (I blame it on agents. LOL)

But way back when I studied creative writing there was a 'three act structure' where you started with 'normal life.'

Well, styles change."


Yeah, styles change frequently and it seems like right now everyone wants the action up front. Every time I do that though I get a handful of people who ask where the world building is. It's maddening. :)


message 14: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments That's what I like about being an Indie - I can take chapter one to do the set up if I want. (Which I do.)

Something else I've noticed, readers aren't as picky as writers when it comes to opening styles. They don't mind some lead in - just don't get too long-winded.


message 15: by K.A. (new)

K.A. Jordan (kajordan) | 3042 comments Donald Maas wrote "Writing the Breakout Novel"

He talks about using 'bridging conflict' to get through the first few chapters without a contrived opening chapter.

Like everything else, it works with practice.


message 16: by Andre Jute (new)

Andre Jute (andrejute) | 4851 comments Mod
Conflict is good. I don't care what fancy-schmancy name they call it this week. Conflict is conflict.

Not all writers integrate conflict equally smoothly.


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