Understanding Story Arcs


There’s nothing like crawling around the kitchen floor–marker in hand–to understand a book’s true structure. In my case, I map out arcs for every character.

What’s an “arc”? Good question, because it’s a bit confusing. Sometimes you’ll hear “ARC” and it means “Advance Review Copy” for a book that has not yet been published. Other times, writers use the word “arc” to mean the highs and lows of a plot or character.

If you think about the story Cinderella, there’s a very basic plot arc at play.


In my own writing, I like to have an abundance of highs and lows to add extra excitement to my plots. Looking at plots as a visual graph, helps me analyze if there is enough balance. A book with too many low moments would be uncomfortable to read. A book that was super happy, would be ridiculous. Finding the right balance takes time, practice, and an enormous amount of revisions.

P.S. If you’re interested in finding out more about plot structures, I highly recommend this post by G.P. Ching called: Writing Novels Using The Circus Method.

Published by Jennifer Bardsley

Jennifer Bardsley believes in friendship, true love, and the everlasting power of books. She lives in Edmonds, Washington with her her husband and two children, and walks from her house to the beach every chance she gets. When she’s not camping with her Girl Scout troop, you can find Jennifer curled up with a romance novel on Saturday night, diet soda in hand, secretly wishing bustles were back in fashion.

4 thoughts on “Understanding Story Arcs

  1. This is great for visual folks! I have tried to draw out story structure and plot and scenes on poster board and made index cards but my brain can’t wrap around it that way. But I love your visual to see if there are too many highs and lows within your arc. I like to write up bullets for each chapter about the story/character arcs and then read them all at once to see the flow.


    1. 🙂 It helps that I have a bunch of butcher paper from IKEA rolling around the garage. Bullet points are another great idea!


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