Pursuit! The Basic Story Arc

Will Jack achieve his heart’s desire? Will Jane achieve her goal?

Let’s find out!

That, in a nutshell, is the basic structure of any story. Scenes revolve around a character’s yearning and efforts to achieve a goal.

Let’s look at each phase of the basic story arc, as diagrammed above.

Goal/yearning introduced. Here we meet the character. In a pivotal scene, we get to know their deepest yearning and goal. This might be a dream, hidden from view, or a tangible, external goal. For example, we could learn that Jack wants to prove he can overcome a debilitating injury by climbing Mt. Everest, or that Jill dreams of overcoming stage fright to become a professional singer.

Conflict(s) and obstacle(s). In this phase, the character faces challenges, one after the other. This phase could be brief (as in a short story) or quite a bit longer (as in a novel). For example, Jack may struggle to learn to walk again after a leg injury and then must overcome financial setbacks to replenish savings spent on hospital bills, so he can afford the trip overseas.

Final “fight” for goal (climax). In this phase, the character faces his or her highest test in the most dramatic section of the story. Perhaps Jack finally has rehabilitated enough to climb and saved enough to arrive at Mt. Everest. Now a snowstorm stops Jack’s climbing party from ascending the mountain, and he must decide whether to go it alone.

Success or failure. Here we learn whether the character achieves their goal or not.  (Note: what looks like failure could really be success or vice versa.) For example, perhaps Jack decided not to pursue his dangerous trek up Mt. Everest, and instead stayed behind to save an injured climber. This could provide him with the self-esteem he once sought by climbing the peak.

Denouement/resolution. In this final phase, the various threads of the story are resolved, and we learn how the characters will go on with their lives. We might learn, for example, that saving the injured climber unexpectedly opened up a new relationship or career opportunity for Jack.

Secondary characters can also have their own story arc. A writer weaves together multiple characters’ story arcs to produce longer works, such as a novel or screenplay.

(c) 2016 Wendy Lyons Sunshine. All rights reserved.