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Chapter 2 Resources

The 4 Arc Structure

In this structure, the novel has four parts, about 70 to 80 manuscript pages in each arc, based on length of 300 pages. Each of the parts has a distinct purpose in telling the story.

Arc One

Set up the conflict or problem, introduce main character and opponent or mystery

Establish character’s inner need, which she may or may not be aware of

Start the subplot rolling—either main character’s or a secondary character’s or both

No flashbacks allowed—tell reader only what he must know now

Make the contract with the reader through tone and style

Use a catalyst if appropriate to get story started and keep things moving

End arc one at a crises: the first turning point scene changes everything and sends the main character in pursuit of a new goal. A decision leads to a beginning level of commitment.

Arc Two

Here come the flashbacks—but only to illuminate the present

Main character is tested, trained, given tasks, tries and fails to reach goal

One step forward, two steps back

Each gain leads to a greater loss in the end

Subplots deepen, also move toward their crunch points

Discrepancy between character’s wants and needs grows larger

Establish deadline or ticking bomb, beyond which all will be lost

End arc two at a crises” the midpoint scene may involve hitting bottoms, being convinced there is no hope of success. Or the main character may move from reactive to proactive, from committed to fanatical, from objective to emotionally involved, from wrong goal to right goal. A line may well be crossed. Return to the status quo is now impossible. The character can only go forward, come what may.

Art Three

Pace increases considerably, chapters and sentences are shorter

All threads begin coming together, all subplots will be resolved by end

Ticking time bomb or other deadline becomes compelling

Build toward climax with ever-increasing conflicts and consequences

Characters desire to reach goal increases exponentially

Disconnect between character’s need and want becomes clear even to him/her

Character tested and trained for the ultimate confrontation

End with Arc three crises: the second turning point, in which the character is forced to make a crucial decision. This can be a low point—if the character hasn’t already hit bottom—or it can be recognition that nothing short of a life-or-death confrontation will solve the problem.

Arc Four

The showdown at last—good faces evil, and only one can survive

All the stakes are bet on a single hand, nothing is held back

Give the ending its full value—give the reader what you promised in arc one.

Use all the elements your set up in the earlier arcs for maximum payoff now

Make sure character undergoes both external and internal transformation

Show an outer manifestation of internal change—character does something in a way she wouldn’t have done at the beginning of the story

Make sure subplot resolution either supports or contrasts with main plot resolution for maximum thematic impact

If at all possible, take characters full circle in some way, with a setting or situation that repeats and echoes the beginning

License

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Novel Writer's Handbook by Melissa Ford Lucken is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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