The best stories I’ve read, watched, and listened to have high, obvious and dramatic arcs. The writer(s) start you off slow, and then over the course of a number of pages or a number of minutes, they take you up a hill and then down again in such a thrilling fashion that you wish you had a seat belt.
If you’re having trouble with your story, then you need to think like Indiana and find that lost arc. Where is the beginning? The top of the coaster? And the smooth release to the end?
And if you’re starting off from scratch, here’s a tip: take a clue from so many great dramatic tales out there and pick something that has a built in arc.
What do I mean?
Do you think it’s a coincidence that courtroom dramas are some of the most popular on and off the stage? A Few Good Men, 12 Angry Men, The Verdict . . . The OJ Trial??? Their arcs are built into the story. The audience knows from the get go that the story will be over when the defendant is innocent or guilty. Everyone knows exactly where they are headed (and its the dramatists job to add some twists and turns and a few loop-de-loops before the end).
Or what about Sports Dramas? Or American Idol? Or . . . and here’s the commonality amongst them all . . . any story that is a contest with a black and white/win or lose finish.
I was watching a slice-o’-life drama the other day, and I worried that tomorrow’s audiences, who grew up on video games and Survivor and political elections that played out like boxing matches in their living rooms, won’t take to those shows the way yesterday’s audiences did.
And that means it’s going to be even more important that all of us act like Indy. Find the arc. And don’t let it go. With it you can find riches beyond your imagination and beat the Nazis.
And without it, you’re just another “arc”-haeologist.
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