“Ask an Editor” is a forum wherein SCBWI members submit questions that are answered as part of our quarterly Kite Tales blog.
Hello Christine – I hear the words “story arc” and “story structure” but am not sure I know the difference. Can you explain? Thanks.
—J.R., Los Angeles
Hello J.R. – Arc and structure (hopefully) work seamlessly together. Let me try to explain.
Story arc (also known as narrative arc) is the trajectory that your story takes over its full progression. The arc provides structure—which makes these terms a bit confusing. Some story arcs and structures can be shown on a graph.
A story’s structure supports everything else. A traditional three-act structure may include the inciting incident also called the end-of-the-beginning scene), followed by rises and falls until reaching the climax, followed by a resolution.
Here are some examples of children’s books to study that have been published in the past few years:
Board book with circular structure: Hand in Hand (New Books for Newborns) by Alyssa Satin Capucilli.
Picture book with parallel structure: The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds and the Life of H. Tracy Hall by Hannah Holt.
Middle grade with alternating narrator (dual-narrator) structure: UnTwisted by Elise Allen.
Middle grade with redundant (repeating) structure: Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds.
Young adult with devolving structure: Summer Bird Blue by Akemi Dawn Bowman.
Young adult with an Eastern style of storytelling called kishōtenketsu (instead of a plot with conflict, kishōtenketsu revolves around contrast or juxtaposition): The Blossom and the Firefly by Sherri L. Smith.
New adult with bookended (sandwiched, or story-within-a-story) structure: Lovely War by Julie Berry.
In conclusion, when arc and structure work, no one notices. But when a story’s not coming together, try looking there for possible problems.
- Read a book in your genre or category; review its arc and structure
- Read craft books to learn more about these areas
- Analyze your writing, plot your story’s arc, think about your story’s structure
- Applying what you learned about story arcs and structures, try something new
- Use these elements when critiquing other people’s manuscripts in your workshop group—if you’re not in a critique group, join one. SCBWI has them! Sign in, then click here.
I hope this information has helped you consider your writing from a new perspective.
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