The scaffolding for a novel’s structure is the arc, or the beginning, middle and end of the novel. Without this seemingly simple progression of storytelling, the novel becomes a collection of scenes or episodes that easily collapse like a house of cards.
The term “arc” can refer to the novel’s structure as well as to the development of character. The point-of-character, and even other major and secondary characters, go through some kind of transition and learn something in the process. The arc of each character undergoing change has a beginning, middle and end.
Likewise, writers go through an arc through their writing careers.
Just like a novel’s arc, where characters and plot are introduced, the writer is introduced to writing in school, through another person or by discovering they have an interest.
The aspiring writer reads and writes to learn the craft.
The writer needs to put in at least 10,000 hours to reach the professional level, as stated in “Outliners,” by Malcolm Gladwell. Or they need to write a million words, or 100 words an hour to reach the 10,000-hour mark.
I usually write 1,000 words in one to 1 ½ hours, and I’ve put in more than 10,000 hours between my writing career as a journalist and my side job as a yet-to-be-published novelist.
The storyline is complicated through the character wanting something, but plot complications stand in the way. Writers have to withstand the rejection, the hard work of submitting their work to contests and literary agents, study the field and write to get what they want – to be a better writer, a published writer or, most desirable, a bestselling, award-winning writer.
At the resolution, the character either gets or will not get what she wants. But for writers, if they get what they want – publication or some kind of recognition for their work – it’s likely they’ll start a new arc in their career, pursuing even greater things.
The climax of a novel is the moment of greatest tension and excitement for the reader, but for a writer, hopefully that climax doesn’t turn her into a one-hit wonder.
As writers march toward 1 million words, they learn from their mistakes, experiences and discoveries. They improve their craft through hard work and discover their talent by learning the basics first.
It’s like building a skyscraper. You start with the scaffolding and go from there until you have a beautiful, sky-reaching building. Writing needs the scaffolding of experience to turn writing that is mechanically correct into something with soul, magic and heart-stopping beauty.