Plot driven stories have, when plotted on a graph, a dome like structure, with excitement (or something like it) on the vertical axis and time on the horizontal axis. This is known as the ‘Story Arc’.
Character driven stories have a different, more detailed arc (not described here), which revolves around the character’s need to change.
These are the main elements you will need when working out a story arc for a plot driven story:
- Beginning. This comes at the bottom left of the dome and is basically a description of what the world is like as your story begins.
- Trigger Point. Moving up the left hand side of dome from we come across the incident that incites the changes in your character’s world. In a thriller, this would be the kidnapping of the victim, in a romance – the first appearance of love object, in a horror – the arrival of the people at the haunted house, and in a comedy – well, it could be anything really.
- First half. From the Trigger Point all the way up to the top of the dome we see the unfolding of the events that have been triggered into motion. The forces of change have begun their work and life may never be the same again. In a thriller, this might be the crushing sense of defeat that the father of the kidnap victim feels in the face of police ineptitude and the overwhelming upper hand held by the kidnappers. In a romance it could be the whirlwind feelings of first love with the associated happiness and contentment felt. In the horror this is maybe the period when people are, one by one, turning up horribly mutilated. In the comedy – who knows! Some funny sh..tuff is going to be going down though – right?
- Midpoint. At the top of the dome comes the point where the tables turn and your protagonist starts to fight back against the tide of change. Your thriller will see the father of the kidnap victim finally lose faith in the police and decide to go on a Rambo style, one man crusade against the kidnappers. Your romance will see the couple having their first apocalyptic fight and splitting up acrimoniously intending never to meet again (ah – how sad!) Your horror movie will see the remaining friends go on the offensive with whatever weapons available to them gripped firmly in their filth covered hands and determined expressions on their blood-splattered faces (yay!) As for the comedy – it’s pretty much all anarchy so you might not notice when the mid-point arrives.
- Second half. This is pretty much all about the war of attrition between the protagonist and the antagonist – one fighting against the change and the other fighting for the change. The thriller sees the father getting closer and closer to the kidnapper’s lair and maybe picking off some of the minor villains one by one as he approaches. The romance will feature shots of the unhappy couple sat in (separate) bars looking ineffably sad. Meanwhile, their friends will be either telling them to get on with their lives and trying to set them up with someone else, or reporting on how unhappy the other half in the doomed love-affair is looking these days. The horror will see losses on both sides as the heroes skirmish with the largely unseen monsters / demons / cannibals / in-breds that are trying to do bad things to them. The comedy will still be funny. Hopefully.
- Climax. At last – the opposing forces meet, fight and one or the other becomes a clear winner – hopefully the good guys! Thrillers will see the kidnap victim rescued, romances will see the happy couple re-united, horrors … well, generally only one person will survive, standing over the body of the vanquished monster only for the damned thing to come alive again! Hopefully the good guy keeps his cool and shoots it straight between the eyes with a silver bullet – but this is not always guaranteed in this genre. The comedy … is still trying to be funny – if you’re still awake at this point.
- End. This is at the bottom right of the arc and is the world in your story after all the changes that your words have wrought.
For a story arc to be satisfying to your reader, the world at the end of the story must be the opposite of the world at the beginning. There has to be a clear contrast between the two states of the world (before and after) and that contrast has to have been brought about by the conflicts and changes described to your readers within your story.
Hopefully you will have made the world a better place and left your readers enriched by the experience. Unless it was a comedy of course.