Monday, July 13, 2009

Story Arc

I've been thinking a lot about story arcing. I don't write with distinct ideas of charts and graphs in mind, but now that I'm editing, I just want to make sure that everything is there the way it should be. For example, look at this chart:

I like this chart because I've been thinking of something much more like a bell curve--straight up and down. But this one has little spikes for each of the crises.

I decided to come up with my own chart. For each chapter, I assigned a number 1-10 for tension. But my book's strength, I think, is that it not only has tension, but also a great deal of emotional response from the reader. So I gave a number for emotion, too.

So, here's what I came up with in my own work

Along the bottom is every chapter. Then I gave a numerical rank of 1-10 on tension (red) and another rank for emotion (blue). Basically, for the purposes of this, tension = how on the edge of my seat I am, and emotion was how heart-wrenching the scene was.

Now, you may see immediately that my graph has a lot of up and down spikes--that's because I alternate POV in each chapter, so while one character's tension is rising in his story arc, the other character's maybe isn't. While I think next time I'll separate it based on the characters, I think I can see a clear line here.

Of note:
  • A spike of tension at Chapter 3; a spike of emotion at Chapter 5. Those were my early hooks.
  • The 20s are low, but the rise is in the 30s and a climax in the 40s--imagine that as a steeper, steadier curve with the overall plot--those are the "crises" that keep the reader reading (I hope)
  • The last chapters shoot up in tension--this is the revelation of the murderer--and emotion--the revelation of the "twist"
  • In the last chapter, tension shoots back down, but emotion shoots up. I wanted to leave the reader emotional, but with questions asked, so I think that's accomplished here.

  • This was MY numbers--what *I* think is heart-wrenching or tension-filled. Another reader may not have that reaction. While I'm happy with how my overall story arc looks like, it's only effective if my readers think that those heart-wrenching scenes deserve a ten, or that tension is worth top points.

So, how do you track your story arc?


Anonymous said...

Wow. That looks cool. I'm going to make one too!

BTW, do you mind if I add you to my blogroll?

MeganRebekah said...

I love that you made a graph for your story arc. That is totally something I would do, because I love numbers and graphs and spreadsheets. Plus, don't they make everything look more professional?

Can I make one suggestion? If you have a beta, have them rate each chapter for emotion and tension as they read, and see how their scores match up with yours. The more results you get, the more accurate your graph will be.

Awesome idea!!!

PJ Hoover said...

This is amazing, Beth! Wow, I do nothing like this, but I'm thinking I should! I can't wait to read your masterpiece!

C.R. Evers said...

That's an impressive chart.

I think about the story arc when I'm outlining, but I don't really check it once I've written the story, unless there's a place that doesn't "feel" right.

I did do graphing for The Hunger Games. I graphed each chapter for pacing. I was so in awe of this book that I had to dissect it for "pacing"

Michelle D. Argyle said...

This is such a great post, Beth. Thank you!

Trisha Pearson said...

Wow, Beth - you are so organized! That's really a great idea.

B.J. Anderson said...

Um, I'm supposed to track it? Crap sakes, I guess it's back to the drawing board. Lol, just kidding. I keep a mental picture in my mind of a chart I learned at a conference workshop. Sometimes I draw it out if I'm bored and trolling for ideas. Great chart!!

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

You are a girl after my own heart! I draw little graphs like that too:-)

Unknown said...

How cool! I should create one of these for my novel...

P.S. 76 chapters! Wow! I only have 15 chapters in my current work, and all my chapters are really looooong, so 76 just boggles my mind.

Danyelle L. said...

Wow! This is amazing. :D

I have a little file in the back of my mind that keeps track of things like story arcs. It works for me, but is nowhere near as neat looking as yours. :D

Robyn Campbell said...

Beth-might I tell these folks how absolutely AWESOME the first draft is? Wow! I'm still not sleeping great. Thanks A LOT! :)

Casey Something said...

Love the chart Beth! I don't chart mine, but I've thought about it. I've done "plot studies" on published books where I pay attention to both plot and character arcs, so I mostly keep what I've learned in mind as I go through my MS.

Unknown said...

Littlescribller: OF COURSE you can add me! I'd be thrilled :)

MeganRebekah: I would have them rate the chapters, but I do have rather a lot of them....I'm not sure if I could ask them for that!

PJ: It was actually a lot of fun :)

CR: I usually don't think about it at all until the end, just to make sure I cover my bases. I don't even make outlines :)

Glam: Thanks!

Trisha: Naw, not really!

BJ: That's it. Go back and redo it all! *evil cackle* jk! I usually do mental, but I couldn't put my brain on my blog :)

Frankie: Thanks! :)

Kathleen: Yup, 76...but some of them are super super super short--like one page short. I was trying something knew with it.

Danyelle: I just made up numbers, easy peasy :)

Robyn: *cackles some more*!!!!

Casey: I've never done it on a published book before--and I don't usually do it while writing.

Sheri Perl-Oshins said...

That's funny. I just saw the same graph (the first one) on Kathy Temean's blog (RA for the NJ SCBWI).

I try to think of mini arcs for each chapter within my broader, grander overall arc, but what can I say... I am still drafting!

writtenwyrdd said...

that's a nifty idea. Not sure I want to chart my plots in graph form (because I'd spend so much time on the graphing) but the concept is a good one for checking to make sure you have what the plot needs, where it needs it.

I love your background on the page, by the way! Gorgeous!

Shannon Morgan said...

Cool graph. I map turning points for each MC in a spreadsheet before writing, then fill in the gaps with pertinent lead-in info and action.