In order for a novel to be well-written, it must have a comprehensive and compelling story arc. However, this may not seem very straightforward when you’re new to writing. Simply put, a story arc or a narrative arc is the structure and pattern of a story. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This is the story arc in your book, and it is made up of the events that shape a story. Since a captivating narrative arc is essential for good writing and a satisfying ending, it must be mastered by every aspiring writer. This article will discuss story arcs and how to write compelling ones.

What Is a Story Arc?

A story arc or narrative arc is the plot and structure of your novel. It’s referred to as an arc because it consists of rising action, a climax (peak), and falling action. Most of the time, story arcs have five key elements: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Properly developing these stages is the key to writing a compelling narrative arc. Let’s discuss each in detail below.


The exposition refers to the story’s setup. This is the introduction where the reader gets to know important background information that sets up what is about to happen throughout the novel. This usually consists of introducing the protagonist, the setting, and more.

Rising Action

Rising action refers to an event – an inciting incident that puts the story into motion. This is when conflict starts building, and readers start to understand what the story will be about. In addition to characters interacting with each other, authors should invest in action, complications, dialogue, and more to ensure this stage is fully fleshed out. This is because the rising action stage is the meat and potatoes of your story.


The climax of your story is when rising action comes to a head and results in a moment that directly solves the central conflict. It is when tension is at its peak, and all the characters and subplots in the novel come together to drive home the conflict. Usually, the story’s climax is when the protagonist must make an important decision. It’s important to remember that the climax is an instrumental part of the narrative arc. Paying attention to it and investing time in it will ensure you stick the landing in your story.

Falling Action

At this stage, the climax has ended, and the story is dealing with the fallout. Tensions ease, and the conflict is solved. The protagonist’s decision or actions have resulted in this falling action, and the story starts tying up any loose ends.


The resolution or denouement is the conclusion of the story. All the plotlines and subplots are wrapped up, and the author ensures that the story comes to a satisfactory end.

How to Write a Story Arc: Creating a Compelling Narrative Arc

No matter the genre or kind of story you’re writing, a solid narrative arc is a must-have. Building a story arc is the first step to writing a best-selling novel. By building this structure and backbone, you establish the parts of the story.

Use the Five Ws in Your Planning

If you want to write a great story arc, it’s essential to start out with the basics, such as establishing the 5 Ws and using them in your planning. The 5 Ws are the “who”, “why”, “when”, “what”, and “where” of your story. Use these building blocks to plan out your narrative arc before putting pen to paper. When doing so, keep character motivations, changes in setting, the themes and subject matter, and conflict in mind. Brainstorming beforehand and going in with a clear plan is the best way to ensure you have a consistent and well-written narrative arc on your hands.

Use Archetypal Narrative Arcs

There are many archetypal narrative arcs you can use or take inspiration from. Whether you focus on a Rags to Riches story (a complete rise), a Riches to Rags story (a complete fall), an Oedipus story (falling and then rising and then falling again) or an Icarus story (rising and then falling), embrace these story arcs.

You can follow them completely, deviate from them, or simply take inspiration from them. No two stories are the same and putting your own variation on the story is essential. An excellent example of a Rags to Riches story is the classic, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, where the protagonist, Pip, is poor at first, and then comes into money.

Create Arcs Within Story Arcs

If you want to maximize the potential of your story, there’s no need to stop at a single story arc. Dramatic structures aren’t set in stone and changing them up is always an option. Creating lesser arcs within the main narrative arc adds further interest and tension in your work and can help you develop themes and characters. For example, in the Harry Potter series, while Harry Potter’s main antagonist is Voldemort, there are subplots within each novel. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the lesser conflict is with the antagonist, Dolores Umbridge. As such, Rowling explores themes such as Umbridge’s cruelty and abuse towards students and her abuse of her power.

Visualize Your Story

The reason for the use of the word “arc” in the terms “story arc” and “narrative arc” is because, visually, a story arc looks like a pyramid or roller coaster. Visualizing your story is an excellent way to ensure you’re establishing the narrative arc adequately. Work out your plot and themes and visualize them on a timeline to see your outline in one place. With everything in one place and plotted out precisely, you can start to change events to improve pace, tension, and more. Thus, you can improve your story and your readers’ experience.


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