Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Story Structure’

Catching onto Character Arc

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on June 3, 2012 at 11:00 am

As a story unfolds, so does the identity of the characters playing a part in the telling of that story.

The unfolding from the story’s beginning to the middle and to the end is called the arc, or the line of the story. The scenes within the arc build to the top, or the moment of highest tension, before sloping back down into some kind of resolution.

The story arc includes one or several character arcs, depending on how many main characters there are.

The character has to want something, or she already has what she wants and loses it.

The character arc is the line of movement in the story as this character faces her flaws, fears and limitations and overcomes them to get what she wants – or, in some cases, needs but does not initially recognize or acknowledge. The inner (or outer) journey she undergoes along the way causes growth and transformation of who she is.

In my novel “Changing Colors,” my main character Kate wants to replace her lost things from an apartment fire, but her obstacle comes in the form of antique stores and flea markets that don’t have anything except for a teddy bear, not enough to restore her sense of home.

Kate faces setbacks and forces of antagonism up until the crisis event, or climax. Those setbacks thwart her desires and trigger her fears.

As she is tested, her motives increase, giving purpose to her actions. She becomes more determined to overcome her problems and obstacles. At the climax, or her moment of truth, she will have to stay with the status quo and suffer the consequences or change to get something better. What that is for Kate, I haven’t yet figured out.

But I do know that as soon as Kate, or any main character, gets her want or need met, the story is over.

A Story’s Arc

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on May 27, 2012 at 11:00 am

Arc is a literary term that conceptually makes sense but is difficult to apply in story planning – that is, if you’re the type of writer you can’t figure out endings.

Arc is the storyline from beginning to middle to end.

In my novel “Dropping Colors,” I’m a third of the way into the story – I know that my two main characters, an artist and a musician, are going to meet, engage in some kind of romance and change each other’s realities. How my story will end is up to my subconscious and the process of letting the story unfold.

The arc is a very loose description of story structure, similar to how the architecture of a home can be reduced to the walls, windows and doors.

The structure of a story contains the elements of the arc line but with more detail. Stories need to have an origination, or some kind of incident that sets up the conflict. This is the beginning.

The middle is the escalation of that conflict and a complication of the situation the characters have to face. The ending resolves the conflict and situation, offering a resolution, unless the story is part of a series.

The storyline, in that case, is resolved but something brought up in the telling sets up a new conflict that can be continued in the next installment. Or, in the case of mysteries, one case is closed but there will be another as part of the character’s job or hobby.

Alongside the story arc, there is character arc.

The character arc is the line of the character’s transformation from the beginning to the middle and to the end. The line shows how the character faces her flaws, fears and limitations and overcomes what hinders her from getting what she wants.

The arc, in other words, is the personal growth and development that she undergoes in a story.

See Zoey the dachshund’s take on arc at