The Narrative Arc
I have recently been researching diagrams to represent the Narrative Arc. My memoir, based partly on childhood memories, needed to be restructured. I’m not one of these clever writers who map out their story-line up front.
One diagram, from the Storyboard That site for teachers and students, was clean and simple, based on Freytag’s Pyramid. There are many examples of narrative arc diagrams—all originating from Aristotle’s ideas on Poetics—often with only minor variations.
Here is an example by a well-known Australian writer, Kate Forsyth.
The Main Points:
1. A short story, or a novel, starts with exposition: scene setting, characters and “usual life” of the protagonist.
2. The inciting incident is the catalyst: the crystal that starts the snowball rolling upwards and onwards towards the climax, then downwards towards the resolution and the conclusion.
It does not have to be in the first paragraph, but must set the ball rolling (rising action) towards the midpoint and the climax. Tension and conflict are represented by the upward movement.
An obstacle, or several obstacles are placed on the hero’s pathway, becoming evident soon after the inciting incident, and still being worked out around the midpoint of the story.
3. The midpoint is often where a shift takes place; this can be a shift in time, place or spiritual awareness on the part of the protagonist.
4. The resolution starts to occur towards the end, represented by the downward movement after the climax. The inciting incident and the conclusion of the story are intimately related. The introduction sets up a promise that is fulfilled in the conclusion.
This brings to mind Joseph Campbell’s idea, represented in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, of there being a great number of stories subsumed under a handfull of umbrella titles.