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14.01 Narrative Arc

What is a Narrative Arc?

A traditional story arc contains an introduction of the story, plot, characters and setting. This is called the Exposition. This leads into the Rising Action when the character is faced with a problem. The character then confronts obstacles along the way toward the Climax of the story, a moment of crisis that directs the rest of the plot. This is followed by Falling Action as the plot moves from climax to the ending. Finally a Resolution occurs and stability returns to the story.

  • Exposition – intro of plot, characters and setting
  • Rising Action – multiple incidents occur providing suspense and tension
  • Climax – moment of crisis that directs the rest of the plot
  • Falling Action – plot moves from climax to ending
  • Resolution – final results of plot - stability returns

How to Make a Narrative Arc?

When composing a narrative it is a good idea to spend a few minutes to write a brief Story Spine that follows a narrative arc. Remember that narratives do not have to have any narrative structure but they often do. A narrative can also be an abstract visual experience. Nevertheless any sequence of images will tend to have some structure even if that structure is to intentionally disregard structure. Think of a story structure as having 3 parts.

Part 1

Explain the setting of the animation. Where is it? What is seen? What is happening? What is the subject?

Part 2

Introduce a problem, conflict or goal. Where is the character going? What do they want to do? Is everything exploding and on fire? Or is is a tranquil and peaceful setting where the problem is that the protagonist is bored?

Part 3

Resolve part 2. What is the result of the actions of the character after encountering part 2? How does the subject escape the fire or stop being bored?

What is a Story Spine?

A Story Spine is simple method to break a story down into 9 parts that then are split into three groups to make a 3 part narrative arc.

Writing a Story Spine and Storyboards will give you an outline and direction to work from. Rather than working with everything possible in the universe, a Story Spine and Story Boards will narrow the scope and set limitations that you can work creatively within.

Link to Blank Fillable Story Spine Sheet

Story Spine Structure

A story spine is a concept created by Kenn Adams in the book “The Art of Spontaneous Theater.” 1 It is a simple outline with prompts that assist a storyteller develop a structure for their narrative.

Act 1 – The first 3 parts of the story spine

This act sets the scene, introduces characters, shows how the world works. The act leads up to having have the rising action of “But, one day…”

  1. Once upon a time…
  2. Every day…
  3. But, one day…

Act 2 - The Journey or the “Because of that…” Sequences

Show the journey of the character and how they overcome obstacles that they encounter. Often includes a low point of the character’s journey. Hardship comes to the character as they experience a low point. A series of challenges is presented that lead to the climax or a fork in the road where a decision must be made. After this diction is made that there is often no going back.

  1. Because of that…
  2. Because of that…
  3. Because of that…

Act 3 - Heading toward the climax and resolution

The characters must make a choice to overcome the obstacles of Act 2. This the “Until, finally…” climatic moment of the story arc. This moves the story toward conclusion and resolution. The character demonstrates learning and growth. This often demonstrates the moral of the story.

  1. Until, finally…
  2. And, ever since then…
  3. And the moral of the story is ….

  1. Kenn Adams “The Art of Spontaneous Theater” ↩︎