Story-A-Week #10: Narrative Arc

Last Tuesday was the last in my Café Stories series of workshops* so we looked back on everything we’d covered, pulled it all together with a look at the narrative arc, did a bit of editing, and wrote one last story.

I gave students a list of all the things we’d worked through:

Session 1: Character.

Session 2: Objects and how to transfer them to the reader’s imagination using similes.

Session 3: The ‘Hook’ aka the opening line or paragraph that makes the reader want to keep reading.

Session 4: Place, how to make the reader fully experience the setting by appealing to their 5 senses.

Session 5: Memoir and Plot: how to write your own story using one of the 7 basic plots.

And asked them to take out any one of the stories they’d written during the course, and examine it for these elements. Was the character fully drawn and ‘real’? Could the objects described be rendered in the reader’s imagination? Did the opening lines act as an invitation the reader couldn’t refuse? Could a reader walk through the setting in her/his imagination as if it were a real place? And which of the 7 basic plots did the story best fit? They had to interrogate their stories, and edit where necessary. This they found almost painfully difficult (as editing one’s own work always is). So I used one of my settings as an example, and took them through what I felt I needed to do to both make it more available to the senses, and to help move the story on. I then gave them a diagram

so we could discuss the narrative arcs of their own stories. They already intrinsically understood this, natural storytellers all, but had never thought about it. I think it helps to bring such things out from the subconscious and examine them. It also helps when editing to have something simple like this available. Now I look at it here I reckon this probably isn’t the best diagram of a narrative arc I’ve seen. It’s a bit exaggerated. A bit over simple, perhaps. Next time I’ll provide a better one, but as always I was doing the lesson plan at the last minute, and working it out as I went along. All my old lesson plans are either in the loft or on my old computer, and I hadn’t left myself enough time to search them out. My students aren’t the only ones learning from these sessions. Anyway, I think it did the job. But, to show how you can use one to probe your own work, here’s an arc map of my story Myrtle Davis**

I’m not sure if I’ve got it quite right, is the climax where I think it is?

Untitled 003: Xi Huang

Once I’d tortured them enough with the editing process I gave them one last prompt and set them to write a story. Here’s the one I bashed out, as usual it’s far from done, I should probably have done my arc map on this one to help get it organised, but that will have to wait for another day.

An Untitled Story that Features a Table

First coffee of the day, she moves through the kitchen to the back door, she will take it in the garden. Normally she likes to sit at her flea-market marble-topped table, on the old chair now softened with a Liberty covered cushion, given by too-rich-for-her-own-good-Lucy-down-the-road who was throwing it away. 

‘I’m so bored with it!’ She’d said, thrusting it at her.

She likes the way the sun comes in through the open blinds and strokes the back of her neck, like an attentive lover. The contrast of that warmth with the cool of the stone. Its Patisserie counter whiteness evoking buttery crusts filled with wine-poached fruits and vanilla scented creme. She couldn’t believe her luck when the stallholder let her have it for a tenner rather than load it back into his van. Though when she tried to get it into her car she understood his reasoning. Not only was it too heavy for her to lift more than a few centimetres without feeling her knees would pop, it became dangerously unbalanced when tipped. But that wasn’t going to stop her trying, and her back wasn’t permanently damaged.

She’s dreamt at this table every morning, with her favourite drink, in her favourite mug, for almost ten years.

But this is the morning after she sat and listened to him deliver his list. She knew the contents already. But hearing it performed like that; its irremediable truth manifested, as if acid etched, onto the surface. At this moment it feels to early to look at the table.

Can you guess what the prompt was?

Next week we’ll be back to the old short-story-a-week challenge format, whereby I follow Ray Bradbury’s rules which end in publishing the story on Mondays. For the next story I’m flipping my technique on its head…


Header image: Restoration Hardware.

*I will do another series of these workshops in the autumn, summer is for gardening and rewriting my novel.

**I’ve done a little work on this story since posting it here, but the arc is the same.

2 thoughts on “Story-A-Week #10: Narrative Arc

  1. Have loved keeping track of your Café sessions. Thanks for this informative post…very encouraging. Hope to make the Autumn sessions…if not on a Tuesday!

    Liked by 1 person

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