Thursday, September 2, 2010
Whenever I hear the word “arc”, I always think of a rainbow, it’s graceful curve spreading muted colors across a sky.
Two weeks ago at the Cape Cod Writers Center writing conference, the word “arc” kept arising, and it wasn’t a rainbow. It had to do with a story or novel and the way it is laid out. It also applied to character and what happens to one.
The arc refers to the rise and fall of plot or character and how it moves and develops. In plot, a setting begins the story. Kate Flora, fiction instructor for the conference week, said of plot: “A fiction, from page one, raises questions, suspicions and expectations; the mind casts forward to later pages, wondering what will come about, and how. It is this casting that draws us through the fiction, from paragraph to paragraph, from chapter to chapter.” Consequently, we must have an arc to do this. To create an arc in the story, we need to set up the plot, giving twists and turns, perhaps a “red herring” (false clue) to throw off the reader and add suspense.
For the story arc, the writer must know the setting, where the story takes place. What does the pond look like; is there a slope to the entrance to the water; dirt or sand; how far across; trees? Not all this needs to go into the original description. Perhaps, later into the story, the dirt bank is descsribed as slippery by an episode. The main character’s little brother slips into the water. and, althought she fears deep water, must jump in to save her brother.
With character, one must give him or her an arc also. The character begins in the middle of life or a situation.. Backstory, or what happened in the past, seeps into the story slowly – not all at once. The backstory is history that causes the character to flinch, to run away, to avoid something and then to move forward. For the arc of character building, the backstory is important, because the fears of the character cause tension.
The character arc moves from the opening situation through a series of problems or experiences that bring us to the climax, the top of the arc. Then, like a rainbow, the arc drops off suddenly as the conclusion draws together all the questions, ending with a growth or learning the character has developed through the story.
Arc is important because, like life, it moves the story forward. It shows the character has grown or changed. Stories are advanced through conflict, Kate told us. What the main character wants must have some problem(s) she needs to surmount before reaching the conclusion. These help the character to grow or change.
To create an arc, draw one on a paper and set the plot on top of the arc and the character on the bottom. Invent situations the character confronts and then state how she grows through these problems or situations. This will give you a story and character arc. At the end of the arc the character is different than at the beginning.
Have fun with your arc. Rainbows are inspirational and beautiful.