Friday, July 29, 2016

Best of the Archives: Story Arc in a Nutshell

This post first appeared in Seekerville May 19, 2014. Comments are closed today so we can catch up on our reading and writing. 

Janet  here. Does anyone besides me feel compelled to understand story arc, yet can’t somehow get the terms drilled into your head? I’d like to believe I’m intuitive, but I’ve wasted oodles of time feeling my way through my story’s plot.

I tried to understand Christopher Vogler’s Hero’s Journey but my eyes crossed. So I set Vogler aside and tried Michael Hauge’s Six Stage Plot Structure. At first Hauge seemed easier, but then essence and identity got mixed up in my head, tossed like a leafy green salad. 

Don't get me wrong. These two men know what they’re talking about and countless listen and learn. But, I remained confused. Please tell me this doesn't make me a nut. Or a nutcase. 

Story Arc in a Nutshell

So, I decided to see if I could boil down a romance story arc that I could understand and share with any of you struggling with the order of events in your stories. Some of the terms are used by Vogler and Hauge and other teachers of craft, but I hope this look at story arc is simpler, the story arc in a nutshell. 

The Jump Start: Often called the inciting incident or cute meet. This is what brings the hero and heroine together. Cute Meet is too saccharine for my taste as there’s nothing cute about the conflict that often accompanies the first encounter between the hero and heroine. This first conflict between the hero and heroine doesn't have to be the book-length conflict that keeps them apart throughout the story. It can just be a way to introduce them on the page. But make it fun or make it devastating. Make it matter.

Life as the hero and heroine have known it is forever changed: This is when the hero and heroine’s external and internal goals enmesh them in a book-length conflict, an external issue that divides them. The motivation for external and internal goals must be strong enough to keep them working toward their goals even when their actions produce more trouble in their lives. Remember story is conflict. Conflict isn’t arguing or bickering though arguing can be the result of conflict.

Stuff happens: The hero and heroine must take action in pursuit of their goals. No sitting around thinking and doing nothing. The stuff they do must fit and forward the plot. Everything must forward the plot. 

Remember the romance is not the plot. In inspirational romances, there’s a romance thread, a faith thread, and a plot thread. 

Scenes can show characterization, but if they don’t forward the plot you’re in danger of writing tea scenes. When the hero and heroine talk, have them doing something. What they do and the way they do it is a great way to show conflict, their innermost thoughts and wounds.  

No possibility of giving up: Hauge calls this the Point of No Return. The hero and heroine have set their path and there’s no going back to the way life used to be. This is often the halfway point of the book. 

Worse stuff happens: Escalate the conflict. Don’t just repeat the same conflict over and over. Raise the stakes, show the new insight of the characters as their goals cost them more and the conflict gets more personal.

The Crisis: This is an emotional crisis caused by the internal conflict. Both the hero and heroine have an internal Goal, Motivation, and Conflict so both will have a crisis. This crisis often results from the hero and heroine confronting each other and they realize they either must deal with their internal issues or all will be lost. If they don't face their deepest emotional fears, they'll stay stuck in the same place they've been. In other words, they realize they may lose a possible happy future if they don’t change. 
Sometimes the external plot prevents the emotional crisis from coming before the Black Moment. If so, just flip the Black Moment and Crisis, but this order often works.

Let me add here that characters like real people rarely change unless they're forced to. Few spill their guts about hurtful stuff unless they're pushed. And hero and heroines shouldn't declare their love before the Resolution or the story is over.

The Black Moment: The external plot forms the Black Moment, the time when all is lost in terms of the external goal. The character realizes everything is related and the external goal may be lost forever because s/he hasn't conquered the emotional issues rooted in the past. Through this dark time of losing the external goal, s/he is able to find the strength buried inside to change and find a way out of the mess s/he’s in. The black moment can stem from the characters’ weaknesses. Often they don’t talk about things that matter and closing oneself off brings trouble.

The Climax: The climax is when the external and internal plots culminate and the characters finally learn their lessons and make the conscious choice to have it all or lose it all forever.

The Resolution: In a romance, with the issues dividing them resolved, the hero and heroine can now declare her/his love and find their Happily Ever After ending. 

The Crisis, Black moment and Resolution should be very emotional for the characters and the reader. Not that the entire story shouldn’t be emotional but these scenes are the big payoff readers want. Often the Crisis, Black Moment and Climax happen bang, bang, bang with no let-up. Make sure to milk each scene so the reader leaves the story satisfied like a fantastic meal.

Any questions?

For breakfast, I brought crunchy waffles with warm syrup, sausage links and crisp bacon with fruit and homemade coffeecake that’s moist and delicious. Hmm, the aromas are making my stomach growl. A reminder to add the five senses to our scenes. 
Janet Dean grew up in a family who cherished the past and had a strong creative streak. Her father recounted fascinating stories, like his father before him. The tales they told instilled in Janet a love of history and the desire to write. She married her college sweetheart, and taught first grade before leaving to rear two daughters, but Janet never lost interest in American history and the accounts of strong men and women of faith who built this country. With her daughters grown, she eagerly turned to Inspirational historical romance. Today Janet spins stories for Love Inspired Historical. When she isn’t writing, Janet stamps greeting cards, plays golf and is never without a book to read. The Deans love to travel and spend time with their family.

Visit Janet at her Website: and blog: and group blog:

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