I first learned about story arcs at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference years ago, and also from an agent I was working with at that time. For new writers, or readers of books, a story arc is an overview of the beginning, middle, and end of a story.
While writing mysteries, I’ve learned that dividing my story arc into three acts works well for me. The first act sets up the murder, suspects, protagonist, and sidekicks. The second act presents, obstacles, danger, clues, setbacks and twists. The final act supplies the final pieces of the puzzle and leads to resolution.
Some authors prefer a story arc in four acts, and others even uses a more detailed seven step approach that includes defining a big event, raising the stakes and action, creating an exceptional event, a big dark moment, and finally the conclusion.
While working on my first urban fantasy, it’s become obvious that my story arc is far more intricate than the straightforward three-act narrative I’ve been using. The book is divided into five sections right now, and each section requires its own story arc.
Chapters also require their own story arc—a point and a purpose that move the plot along, even if it’s all told through backstory. The trick will be not to become overly repetitive, as each of the main characters’ sections might overlap with the others. We’ll see how it goes.
I’m still in the early stages of the second rewrite, but am finding that it’ll soon be necessary to plot each chapter and section on an Excel sheet. This will help remind me of the purpose of each chapter while staying focused on the story arc in each section, and the overall big picture. It’s a daunting task, but one that I’m really enjoying.