Monday, 27 June 2011


Whipped Into Shape is a new regular feature. What happens is that you tell me something from Write to be Published that you found particularly helpful or inspiring or whatever, and explain why. I put it on the blog and talk a bit about whatever point you've raised so everyone can learn. If you'd like to do this, read the Over To You page at the top of the blog. You get a chance to plug your writing or blog. Or cooking skills if you wish.

First to be Whipped Into Shape is Inkpen, talking about oddly shaped story arcs...

Inkpen said about WTBP: 
"I have found the section on story arcs really useful. I wish I could show you a diagram of my story arc picture page!
You wrote about arcs and spikes, so I obediently [NM: good, I like obedient] drew just that. Imagine, if you will, a landscape page in an A5 turquoise Moleskin notebook. There is a slightly mis-shapen rugby ball outline and inside it a series of spikes holding up the top arc, and between those, squiggly lines (my own fabulous invention!) descending to the bottom one. The top curve reaches its peak about three quarters of the way along, the bottom one a tiny bit earlier.
My WIP is a novel for the younger end of the teen audience – MCs are 14. In the novel they are both driven by situations at home which are making them act in a particular way outside. So the top arc represents the action, the main plot, the events which build to crisis point and then down as the story is – hopefully! - resolved. The bottom arc represents the rest - the inbetween bits of their day to day home/school life and their internal life – basically, their motivation for the action. The crisis point of the bottom arc is slightly earlier because it’s sparking off the pointy action bits on the top.
What all this showed me was that I had a clear series of plot events, so I had a structure, but the squiggly lines were too thin. I realised that my MCs were lacking sufficient motivation, and that’s the bit I’m now working on, with a sub-plot and a bit more background. Within this framework I could also start to place the scenes I’d already written, and I had some very specific areas to think about in planning and writing.
This is my first novel – not including the two historical romances I wrote as a teenager! – but I write for a couple of women’s weekly magazines. 

So, over to me.
For those of you who don't have a copy of Write to be Published so don't know which bit Inkpen is talking about, here is the link to the blogpost which inspired that section, though I should point out that the book expresses it more tidily and better.

Yes, stories have shapes. (And Inkpen has cheekily invented squiggly lines... Pfffth.) You may not have consciously noticed story shape in books that you've read but I can tell you you'll notice when a) there's no shape or b) the shape is flat and crappy. And you really don't want a flat or crappy shape. You honestly don't.

You don't want one in your story, either.

Don't forget to let me know if you'd like to contribute to Whipped Into Shape. Details of this and other ways you can be part of the blog and showcase your writing and your own blog are on the Over To You page at the top of the blog.


Dan Holloway said...

I love the visual way Inkpen has talked about this. I used to use mind maps to plot but found they really aren't very good precisely for arcs. I will confess my approach is *way* more haphazard, but I've always thought if I *were* going to have a systematic approach it would be something like a visual music score, which this sounds rather like. I found a gorgeous one here:
something visual is such a great way of literally seeing if your story is flat

JO said...

Sometimes it helps if you can persuade someone else to help with this. I tried it with one not-good-enough novel, and my arc was very different from that drawn by my co-reader. Which did, at least, tell me I wasn't getting the message across.

Nicola Morgan said...

Dan - really interesting. (And yes, those music scores were rather gorgeous.) I agree - it's needing to see whether our story is flat at any point that's the key.

Jo - ah, that's interesting. But I wouldn't be so quick to say it's because you're not getting your message across. Another reader can see different aspects of importance and that's absolutely fine. For example, a reader will often say a book was "about such and such" whereas the writer thought it was "about" something quite different. The only thing that would be a problem is if the reader thought it was flat, slow, dull and "about" not very much!

2005 Ford Ranger AC Compressor said...

I enjoyed your post. It’s a lot like college – we should absorb everything we can but ultimately you need to take what you’ve learned and apply it.

Paul Anthony Shortt said...

I love crafting the arc of a story in my head. I agree with Jo, this is where it can be really helpful to have a fellow writer read your MS and give you an objective opinion.

Patsy said...

I think mine is like a huge surf wave, only in reverse.

It starts of with the mc crashing onto the beach.She tries to stand, but is hamprered by a few ripples coming ashore. Next there's a bubbly white water bit with some minor turbulence. This builds to a leap in the action where the characters are thrown around a lot and things get turned inside out.

Just before they drown we all slide down the back of the wave into the calm ocean of happy ever after. Except it's not set near the sea.