Once again I’m going to say you don’t have to plan out a story before you begin, we can easily shape it after we finish the first draft. And when I refer to arcs I’m not going to give you a rigid structure, partly due to the potential variation in stories and partly because a rigid structure, I find personally, can be counterproductive. The truth is that, despite what some books will say, there are no set notes to hit in a set order like music. It’s ironic that some writing books will complain about certain fiction being formulaic and then give us a strict writing formula to follow.
As such we’ll begin with the vaguer notion that if we’re writing a plot, whether main or sub, we need to get the characters from one emotional state to another. I phrase it this way because we can have characters together in some way before the story begins, we may for instance have a story about a married couple who have drifted apart saving their relationship or friends to lovers, these are romance stories but not necessarily about the inception of romance. It’s important to remember that just because we have a romance story doesn’t mean the characters have to first meet at the beginning of the story, we could even open the story with them already in the early stages of a romance.
Once we know where they are at the beginning of the story we need to know where they’re going. This doesn’t have to be a firm notion, especially if we’re the type of writer who is beginning and doesn’t plan, but it can help to have a sense. This sense could simply be that our story will have a happy end, a tragic end, or it will be continued in book two. Once we have that we can make up our own notes in our own order. Are we going to have a slowly developing romance? Enemies to lovers? (it’s important to note this refers more to characters who don’t get on as opposed to the true sense of an enemy) Is it going to be a smooth or bumpy development?
Now you might be wondering what I mean by a ‘smooth’ development when we’re constantly told that our stories need conflict. This is true, our stories do need conflict but that doesn’t mean the conflict has to come from within the relationship itself, it can come from external sources. This could be the previously discussed romantic antagonist or rival or the impact of another plot on the relationship, such as stories where the people in relationships are separated by events. In the case of physical separation our arc might be the ways they try to get back to each other.
In a bumpy plot it could be some internal conflict within the characters or their relationship. An example would be Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen where Darcy and Elizabeth need to learn more about each other to overcome their pride and prejudice. In such a case our arc would include moments where the characters learn something new about each other that causes their perception to shift.
In the case of Pride and Prejudice the major ‘turning point’ is when Elizabeth discovers the truth about Wickham and the second is when Darcy helps her sister who has eloped with Wickham. Before we come to the first turning point that changes Elizabeth’s view for the better we have the conflict between the two increasing. Wickham tells her his story, which turns out to be a lie, when Darcy stops Jane meeting Bingley again, and when Darcy proposes ‘despite his better judgement’. This final point is the height of Elizabeth’s prejudice and Darcy’s pride and prompts the first major turning point where he begins to ‘overcome’ his pride and tells Elizabeth the truth about Wickham who had eloped with Darcy’s sister. At the time the novel was written this would have been considered a major scandal and brought great shame on a family so Darcy telling Elizabeth is more significant that we might consider it today.
Whatever way we decide to form the relationship in our book from an arc perspective it usually works out along the lines of increasing conflict/increasing knowledge, a turning point where the story/arc/plot begins to move towards its resolution, and then the resolution. This is by no means definitive, as we can see in Pride and Prejudice it’s Elizabeth’s increasing ‘knowledge’ that causes conflict but some of that is misinformation. When the turning point appears we have increasing knowledge again that contradicts previous knowledge. This doesn’t always happen and a turning point can happen early or late and there can be more than one which is why I’m not going to give you a strict structure but rather offer these possibilities and encourage experimenting to see what works best for your story.
NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. Check back tomorrow for the next part.