In writing there are generally two different types of story arcs – plot arcs and character arcs. In any one story you can have several different arcs, and as a writer it is vital understand how they work, because they make planning your writing a great deal easier.
Plot arcs relate directly to the narrative itself, and in complex stories that have more than one narrative thread, a plot arc is a term to describe one of these threads. What is crucial in the planning, writing and editing stages of a piece of work, is understanding how these different threads relate to each other. Where do the different threads interlink? What effects do the different threads have on each other? It is also important to understand them yourself to make sure that you don’t leave any loose ends.
Complications with plot arcs interacting with each other is more likely to occur in longer prices of work and stories told over several books or television episodes. It’s vital to understand as best as possible how something is going to work out, just because it makes life a great deal easier.
Life isn’t that simple though, and I know from experience of writing a series of books, that if you change your mind about something, it can have a knock on effect. I once changed a character slightly to be less of a villain, and it had a massive knock-on effect right back to the beginning of the previous book which thankfully I was still editing.
One of the greatest examples of a plot arc I’ve ever come across isn’t actually from a book for once, but from the first series of Doctor Who after it was rebooted in 2005. ‘Bad Wolf’ started as a little hint and gradually became the resolution to the entire series. However, if you read Russell T. Davies’ account of writing the first series (in The Writer’s Tale with Benjamin Cook) the ‘Bad Wolf’ it was not the plan that he set out with, but as many writers occasionally discover the initial plan sometimes just doesn’t work.
However you can’t really tell, as ‘Bad Wolf’ was and still is brilliant. It starts as a plot arc, that just simmers away underneath the other stories, and them becomes a vital cog in the character arc for Rose Tyler.
Character arcs are related to the journeys that the characters themselves go on. Not all characters change as the story is told, but generally, protagonists go through a journey and develop (for better or worse) as a character in the story. For Rose she finds something to believe in so strongly that she is willing to sacrifice everything to try and protect it.
So story arcs aren’t that difficult to understand, and there are many great examples in literature and in television, but it is a plot device that you do need to plan, but also be prepared to change if it isn’t working. Understanding how each of your arcs work with each other though does make it easier. It doesn’t just stop there though, and there are things you do need to consider further: whether your story is plot driven or character driven, which I will discuss more in the next post.