Whether you’re a writer or a story editor, you must understand why the story arc is important and how to check if a story is following this time-proven form. I have to confess, I love the story arc. It fascinates me that something can work for the human brain since stories were first told. Since before anyone knew what a story arc was.
Five important scene make up the story arc : the Inciting Incident, Plot Point 1, the Middle, Plot Point 2, and the Climax. For the story to be powerful, these scenes must appear in the right place of a story.
If the incident comes too late, the reader will get bored.
If plot point 1 is too close to the middle, the story will feel rushed.
If the Climax is too late, the resolution won’t satisfy the reader.
All bad things.
Monsters are also bad. So let’s do some time traveling and look at two monster stories. One ancient. The other modern. One an epic poem. The other a novel. Both HUGELY successful.
History of the Story Arc
Let’s go way back into the past. All the way to circa 750 t0 700 BC when is it believed Beowulf was written. It’s an epic poem with 2669 lines. I used the translation of J.R.R. Tolkien edited by his son Christopher Tolkien and published by Harper Collins (2016) to analyze the poem from a story arc perspective.
Beowulf is the oldest surviving epic in British literature. Normally I write about novels, but novels didn’t exist back then. The long form of a story was a poem, often spoken instead of read.
Beowulf takes place in Denmark, where a monster terrorizes the people. Grendel is his name. Beowulf is the hero of the story and goes on a quest to destroy Grendel.
Beowulf Story Arc Scenes
Inciting Incident: Line 279: 10% into the story.
Beowulf has heard stories of a monster who walks the night. A watchman allows Beowulf to pass into a kingdom, and Beowulf’s ordinary life is changed. He’s on his way to help King Hrothgar fight the monster.
Plot Point 1: Line 665: 25% into the story.
Beowulf kills the monster, Grendel. This causes Grendel’s mother to seek revenge.
So far, so good. The key scenes are fitting perfectly on the story arc most used today.
Middle: Line 1315: 50% into the story.
You can tell I’m getting excited by this point. I wasn’t sure what the results of my analysis would be when I started out on my adventure to study the story arc more deeply.
At the middle, Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother.
Plot Point 2: Line 1958: 73% into the story. Right within range!
Beowulf learns his home is being ravaged by dragons. He’s at rock bottom. He left his home to help others, and now his home is paying the price.
Climax: Line 2260: 85% into the story.
Beowulf fights the dragon and at the end of the climax, he kills it.
The story starts with a funeral and ends with a funeral. It starts with a monster killing people, and ends with a person killing a monster. Perfect symmetry. Beowulf has been around forever for a reason.
The Modern Story Arc
Now let’s time travel forward 2700 years or so. We come to Twilight. Written by Stephanie Meyer. Published in 2008 by Harper Collins. I analyzed Twilight based on word count, not line count as I did with Beowulf.
Twilight was extremely commercially successful. This may or may not be the genre for you, and whether you liked the story or not isn’t the point. The point is a story has a better shot at being commercially successful if it follows the story arc.
Twilight’s Story Arc Scenes
Inciting Incident: 10% into the story.
Bella has already met Edward. This leads up to the inciting incident where Edward saves Bella from being killed in a parking lot. She gets her first glimpse of his powers and is set on her path of discovering more about him.
Plot Point 1: 25% into the story.
Bella suspects that Edward is a vampire, but she decides to pursue him anyway. Edward has emotional power over Bella.
Middle: 50% into the story.
Edward reveals his true powers as a vampire to Bella. He saves her from an attack, and this strengthens how she feels about him.
Plot Point Two: 75% into the story.
A bad vampire goes after Bella, and Bella must leave her home. Bella wants to survive, but not if it means risking those she loves.
Climax: 90% into the story.
The vampire lures Bella into a trap. She faces down the evil vampire and gets injured.
Can You Still Write a Unique Story?
Following the form of the story arc doesn’t mean the story isn’t unique. Of course it is. You are a unique person, and you wrote it. No one else can write the same story. My goal is to give you the best chance of writing a story people love.
Beowulf and Twilight are both about monsters, but they are very different stories.
And that my is my story of what the story arc is important.
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