Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Story Arcs

"Applying a short story arc to each scene in a novel will strengthen the plot and character motivation, and build tension to the climax of the book."
~ Suzanne Pitner 




In her article, "Novel Writing Tips, Applying Short Story Arc to Scene Structure", Suzanne Pitner explains how we can apply the traditional short story arc to individual scenes of our MS in order to better build the story's tension.
"Thinking of scenes as mini stories, each with a beginning, middle, and end helps writers to define the characters, plot, and subplot in a novel. A short story focuses on one plot element, and a scene should do the same thing."
She suggests ending our scenes at the height of the conflict, and opening the next scene with how the conflict was handled. The final scenes of the story will provide the resolution.

Suzanne compares this strategy to waves building in intensity throughout the story.
"Each scene will build upon the one that came before, but each will still maintain that mini story arc. As this continues through the book, the tension will rise until the novel reaches its dark point. It will be like riding a crest of a wave that builds in power until it reaches the shore. At the dark point, the water recedes. To the unaware person, it might appear that things are going to be fine. Until you, the author, bring all the force of those waves back to shore in a tsunami, the climax of the story.
The article is really quite interesting, as are ALL of Suzanne Pitner's writing articles. I suggest you follow the link below and read the full text.


How do you keep the tension building throughout your story?

29 comments:

welcome to my world of poetry said...

I find all this extremely interesting, although I don't write novels, it's good to know about other aspects of writing.

Yvonne.

Katie Ganshert said...

What a great reminder! I try to keep the structure of my novels pretty tight and build the stakes as I go. I also try to make sure I have tension on every page - big or small - but something that makes the character uncomfortable.

Jen Daiker said...

I loved this post!!! I'm never sure how I continue to build tension, I take pride in being able to provide tension in a scene however revising does help me reach that goal.

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

Great post and tips! I keep the tension alive because I have a TON of character conflict and a TON of action. My Antag is always flirting around on the pages and it creates plenty o' tension. Infact, I have to dial it down a notch and have semi-lull chapters just to give my reader a break. I do like her structure on how to do this so I'll keep it stored in this brain of mine ;) Thanks for sharing!

Katie Mills said...

this makes a lot of sense and it's something I hope to adapt in my books. My last book it just 'happened' that way- I was lucky in that the story and scenes came to me with mini conflicts and resolutions. In my earlier books though...eh, pacing was a real issue. lol. Great post!

Angela Felsted said...

I like your diagram.

Terri Tiffany said...

She suggests ending our scenes at the height of the conflict, and opening the next scene with how the conflict was handled. The final scenes of the story will provide the resolution.


I'm really really trying hard to do this!!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

This is a great idea (though hopefully I was already doing it). I also try to pay attention to the character arc in each scene, especially when it comes to emotions.

Well I'm now to analyze my scenes for this. :D

Laura Marcella said...

Good advice! I'll have to go back and check out how well I do this...or how bad, haha. Thanks for the article!

Carolyn V said...

Oh yeah, there has to be rising tension. Just making things worse for a character makes it work for me. =) My poor characters.

Shari said...

This sounds like an excellent article. Thanks for posting.

Patti said...

Great advice. I've tried to do that with my writing. I'm not always successful, but I try.

Old Kitty said...

Great post!! I try and try to write my chapters like short stories - it's very difficult because you don't want to end the chapter like in a short story but need to keep the reader's interest longer!

Thanks for the link!! take care
x

Michael Offutt said...

Good television does this as well. My favorite series at the moment is "Supernatural" which oftentimes features a "monster of the week" type storyline. But then, the whole thing factors into the big picture for a season-long story arc. It's masterfully done and makes the whole thing that much more entertaining.

Tere Kirkland said...

I think I started using a technique kind of like this after reading the Maze Runner/Scorch Trials.

Dashner ends every chapter on a cliffhanger/point of high tension, which makes you never want to put the book down.

I've been trying to make the end of each of my chapters intriguing or super-tense, and since most of them have only one or two scenes, it works. But I never thought about "scene" past making sure I have a scene goal.

Thinking of it as its own distinct entity makes a lot of sense, though, so thanks, Shannon!

Heather said...

I love the idea of ending a scene at the height of the conflict. You come across the best advice!

Racquel Henry said...

Thanks for sharing this, Shannon! I love the comparison of a scene with a short story and how both should focus on one plot element. Excellent post! :)

Solvang Sherrie said...

I remember reading Magic Treehouse books with my kids and we could never stop at the end of a chapter. She always had these mini cliffhangers that made the kids beg me to read the next chapter. I've always tried to do that with my stories so that people want to keep reading.

roxy said...

This info will be very helpful during the revisions I'm doing now. Thanks so much!

Candice said...

You know, this is something I learned before, but had completely forgotten about. Hopefully I do it anyway, but I'm going to consciously do it now. Thanks for the reminder!

Emy Shin said...

Thank you so much for this post, Shannon. These are really great advice.

Medeia Sharif said...

Interesting. I've never thought of using the arc per scene.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Shannon -

Excellent article! I like ending a chapter with a cliffhanger whenever possible.

Blessings,
Susan :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Terrific article. I'm working on ending my chapters with cliffhangers rather than wrapping things up too well. This will help :)

Jen Chandler said...

Thanks for the advice!! I'm off to check out her other articles.

I've never thought of making each scene a sort of mini-story. Very helpful :D

Lydia K said...

Ooh, this will be great for my revisions...
Thanks Shannon!

Deb said...

(bit behind in my blog reading!) This looks _great_ and exactly what I've been doing lately, looking at the short story structure and relating it my book, so thanks for the heads up. Will read it more closely and follow the links later tonight, heading out to work soon.....

Laura Pauling said...

I think this is so important to remember, esp when we're revising. It can make a huge difference in pacing and encouraging the reader to keep reading!

patti.mallett_pp said...

Really helpful post! Thanks for all of the tips. I'm in the "learning while writing" stage so will be making notes on this advice. (Great comments, too.)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...