Please note: this short intro appears prior to each of these ten installments. If you’re read it before, skip down to the next subtitle in larger font. Also, to read previous posts in this series, refer to this menu of links (be sure to return to this page to keep reading in sequence; that said, each of these stand alone, it is the assimilation the full body of information that will take you to the next level of understanding of the basic principles of fiction-writing craft, as it applies to writing a novel):
Part 1: Concept
Part 2: Premise
Part 3: DRAMATIC ARC
It’s not mystery that stories have a beginning, middle and end. But if you leave it at that, you may not be seizing the inherent potential of your premise, and you may be leaving upside on the table in a way that may either explain a rejection letter, or fall short of your self-publishing goals.
Modern fiction – let’s leave Cervantes and Homer out of the conversation for a while, they haven’t sold a novel in centuries – is not driven by formula (a distasteful word for writers). Some writers – too many – dismiss anything related to structure as formula, but that’s laziness and ignorance, because unless you are finger painting, everything has structure driven by what has been proven to work.
The unfolding sequence of a story is driven by something called “dramatic theory”…
…with is a core expositional principle that results in stories sequencing in a certain way… a linear contextual order that is a little more complicated than beginning, middle and end.
Novels are built around four evolving contextual parts (which overlays and aligns with 3-Act structure, but with more useful context for writers who are doing it, rather than just studying it). No matter how many chapters or scenes are involved, an effective novel presents itself to the reader in a way that naturally captures their interest and manipulates their emotions. It begins with putting the pieces of the story – characters, settings, plot machinations, stakes, heroes and villains – into play initially, and then throwing a wrench into the works, thus allowing readers to immerse themselves into the emerging dynamics of it all.
And then something happens – there’s that wrench – and it does it is the most important moment in the story: everything changes. The primary “plot” (the source of dramatic tension) launches or, if it was partially initated earlier in the Part 1 setup, here is where it escalates. Suddenly your hero has something to do, something to play for, motivated by threat or opportunity and opposed by forces (usually a human “villain,” but a personal crisis or natural event can threaten just as heinously) that pursue another goal altogether, one that puts them (the villain/antagonist) at odds with the goals of our hero.
This sequence is known as the dramatic arc…
… and it becomes the very essence of the narrative of a novel. And yet, professionals know that, while there is no formula, there is a prescribed order to the context of it all. You wouldn’t, for example, show the reader the ending in the first half of the book (and if you do, then the suspense may reside in the way you get to it, which needs to surprise the reader along the way).
This is more than structure, per se. Rather, this is the proactive management of the reading experience, leading your reader through the lens of your story strategically, in a manner that optimizes drama, emotion and the sheer vicarious thrill of losing themselves with your story world. Dramatic arc is the means by which you deliver an experience – emotional, intellectual, visceral, sexual, social – vicariously through the sequence of your scenes.
This flow is as complex as it is critical to the success of the story.
Some writers labor for years in search of it – others deny it completely while they, unwittingly, set out to find and implement the very thing they deny – and yet it remains available to any writer seeking to understand story as a reliable theoretical sequence, rather than something that is different every time out.
Want more? Would you like to go deeper into the basic essentials of craft?
Join me and story coach Jennifer Blanchard in Portland April 3 through 7, for a deep dive into the full realm of story craft – definitions and criteria included – covering this and many more elements and essences of a successful story… a story so powerful it’s almost as if it’s on steroids… all presented in context to your writing process, whatever that might be.
Click HERE for a description of the workshop, and a link to the enrollment page. Or HERE for a closer look at the four-day agenda.
Or click HERE to go straight to the workshop’s website.
If you enroll before February 1, you will receive a TEN PERCENT DISCOUNT on the workshop tuition.