Writing Tips – Mini Story Arcs Within Your Story’s Arc

The other day an author had a post on his blog where he talked about writing a weekly serial and how he had to write such that he always left off at a part where readers were dying to find out what happens next. That way they’d come back the following week and read the next installment. I commented that I naturally wrote in chunks of 2,500 – 5000 words at a time, which turned out to be very helpful. My writing process has evolved over the years such that with those 2,500 to 5,000 words I subconsciously include a small story arc within each chapter.

I thought the subject would make a great blog topic. Typically when people talk about ‘story arcs’, they’re referring to the plot line of the book. The story arc usually follows a bell curve style like this:

Story Arc: Where the beginning of the story starts out ramping up, then it peaks in the middle and then by the end, there’s the story’s resolution, leaving the reader fulfilled by time they finish the book.

Within every book, each chapter also includes its own tiny story arc. Each chapter will follow a similar pattern as the main story arc with the exception of an up-turn on the tail-end of the bell curve like this:

Chapter Arc: The goal here is that each chapter has a ramped up beginning, heightened middle and then a ramp down until you get near the end where the plot jumps back up yet again. This is a “hook” to keep the reader engaged and turning the pages.

So back to my comment on the author’s blog where I said, “I naturally write to 2,500 to 5,000 words per sitting.” What I meant was, each time I sit down to write, I’m leaving off at a highpoint (either at 2,500 words (ie, the middle of the chapter (the peak of the chapter bell curve) or at the end of the chapter (the up-turn right after the bell curve’s decline). In both cases, that’s a highpoint in the small chapter arc.

If you put all the chapter’s side by side within the story’s overall arc, they’d look something like this:

As you can see, each chapter arc moves upward, building upon the overall story arc, then peaking before coming back down to the final conclusion in the book.

This is how I “visually” see writing a story in my mind’s eye. It helps me in terms of pacing and avoiding the dreaded “sagging middle”.  Hopefully you’ll find it helpful to think in these “visual” terms. 🙂