Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘narrative arc’

Today, author Ellen Leventhal helps me launch my new blog series Arc Angel, and she is offering a softcover copy of her sweet book, Lola Can’t Leap, to one lucky winner. All you have to do is leave a comment for this post, and your name will go in the drawing for December 13.

In the Arc Angel series, I will work with published authors as we use our books and have Q and A sessions to help demonstrate good narrative and character arcs when writing picture books.

The idea for this blog series began brewing in my mind about a year ago when one of my critique buddies called me her arc angel. I got a kick out of the play on words and appreciated the compliment. That same day, I wrote the following after the song Earth Angel. You can listen to the song Earth Angel below.

Arc Angel

by Alayne Kay Christian

Arc angel, arc angel,

will you define?

My darling plot

must impress and shine.

I need a tool—

a tool or two from you.

Arc angel, arc angel,

I want to explore,

sharpen my writing forevermore.

I need a tool,

a tool or two from you.

I dreamed of you, and I knew,

I could improve my plot’s liveliness!

I hoped and I prayed that someday,

I’d have the vision of arc happiness.

Arc angel, arc angel,

will you define?

My darling plot

must impress and shine.

I need a tool—

a tool or two from you.

 

And Heeeeere’s Ellen!

new headshot 3

Today’s Arc Angel is the talented author and my fabulous friend and critique buddy, Ellen Leventhal. Thank you for joining us today, Ellen. As you know, the main plot points of the story arc usually include the exposition, ordinary world, inciting incident, rising action, climax, and falling action that slips into resolution. Your books Lola Can’t Leap and Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets along with your forthcoming book A Flood of Kindness all have well-written story/character arcs.

Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets strays a little from a typical picture book arc formula. But it’s a great example of how arcs can look a bit different but still contain all the elements of a good arc.

Before we move into showing the basic plot points of your stories, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions.

EL: Happy to answer whatever I can!  But first, I want to thank you for having me. By the way, that Arc Angel song is quite impressive! The only thing better would be for YOU to sing it to everyone!

AKC: Okay. You asked for it . . .

Q: From your experience as a published author, why would you say that understanding arc is important for any writer to master? Could you also address the value of emerging writers learning it and using it?

A: In my mind, ARC is STORY. Without an arc, you just have a group of ideas or actions. Now that’s a fine starting place, but it doesn’t lead to a satisfying ending. As writers, we have to think about how the actions are related and move the characters (and readers) through the story. Stories take us on journeys with a beginning, middle, and end. Thinking about plot points and arc gives both emerging and experienced writers a structure. For me, keeping the arc in mind while I write and revise helps me stay on track. I’m not saying it’s easy, but I think it’s important.

Q. What suggestions do you have for strengthening an arc?

A: I guess it would be cheating to say that my first suggestion is to have a talented friend like Alayne Kay Christian who can tell you when you are totally off.

AKC: I’m blushing. You’re too kind.   

But barring that, I do a few things.

  1. After the first few super sloppy drafts, I begin to analyze what I have.
  2. I pop the plot points into a very simple story map to see if I have the elements of a story. If I’m lucky, the elements are there. But if I can’t find the rising action, climax, and resolution, I go back to the drawing board. (actually, the computer screen or yellow pad)
  3. I’ve recently begun to look at arc separately when I revise. That’s difficult for me because a lot of other elements of good writing come easier to me. Give me a sentence to revise; I’ve got it!  Give me an arc to revise; that’s work. But VERY needed and satisfying work.

Q: Do you write organically (pantser) or do you use an outline (planner)?

A: I am definitely a pantster with dreams of becoming more of a planner. For picture books,  I always know my main character and problem before I start, and on a good day, I  know the major plot points and some action. But being mostly a pantster, I don’t always know exactly what goes between those points or how I’m going to get to the end. On not so good days, I just have a character, theme, and some idea of where I want to go when I first sit down to write. But I get there! It’s just a bit circuitous.

I do try to have more of an outline for longer stories. But none of those stories are published, so there’s that. 😊

Q: Whatever your method, what is the value in that approach?

A: For me, I need the freedom to allow new thoughts into my head as I write that first messy draft. I am a list person in my non-writing life (although my list usually says, “Finish that draft!”) The few times I outlined every beat, my “do the list” personality popped up, and I had a difficult time deviating from the outline and letting my mind flow. 

Q: Do you believe there is any value in the opposite approach? Do you sometimes wish that you worked that way, or have you ever considered trying it?

A: Absolutely there is a lot of value in being more of a planner! The most obvious value to me is that it will probably cut down on revision time. I think that it is easier to keep arc and story in mind when the plot points are in front of you. I am actually outlining a picture book now with the hopes that it will aid in keeping word count low.

Q: If you’re a pantser, are you aware of the arc while you are writing? Or during editing, once the basic idea gets down on paper?

A: As a pantster, I do think about the arc as I write first drafts, but it’s not uppermost in my mind. For me, the real work of making sure there is a GOOD arc comes during those early revisions. I usually know the end, so I have to figure out how to get there while keeping the theme, voice, and emotion of the story.

Q: I’m not sure this next question is possible to answer. Why do you think the arcs for Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets and Lola Can’t Leap took different arc journeys?

A: The first reason for this is because I wrote Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets with my talented friend, Ellen Rothberg. In fact, the major question of the story was her idea. What would happen if a cow ate some bluebonnets? This book was born of conversation and lots of laughs. We were somewhat clueless about writing picture books when we first started, but being educators who read a lot, we did understand basic story structure. When I started Lola Can’t Leap, I knew it was for younger children, and I wanted a specific, easy to follow structure.

Q: Your forthcoming book A Flood of Kindness (great title, by the way) has an excellent arc, too. You do a really good job of building tension. Would you please tell us a little bit about A Flood of Kindness? What is it about? And why do you think the arc is important to this story? What was your approach to building the arc?

A: Glad you like  the title! Thank you! I went through many different ones, and I was surprised when the publisher kept that one. But I do like it.

The story follows Charlotte, a young girl who watches floodwaters rise in her home and is forced to evacuate to a shelter with her parents. As Charlotte adjusts to the shelter–a strange, crowded place that is not home–she grapples with feelings of anger and sadness. But as the days go by, Charlotte starts to realize how grateful she is for the things that she does have–her parents, a cot to sleep on, food to eat–and begins looking for ways to help others in the shelter. The book addresses grief and loss and demonstrates how kindness can bring hope.

The arc is very important in this story because aside from outside circumstances, there is a strong emotional arc. I think in order for children to be drawn to the story, they must feel, not just see, Charlotte’s transformation. My approach to building the arc in this story started with the character’s emotional arc, and  then I plugged in circumstances to support it.

AKC: I think emotional core is key to any story–even humorous ones. The reason I say even humorous stories is because any emotional connection that the reader has to the character and story is a connection that makes the reader want to keep reading. And caring about the character and what might happen to him/her makes the reader turn pages. Charlotte’s emotional journey definitely makes the reader care.

Q: I did a quick breakdown of the arc elements in Bluebonnets and Lola. Would you mind doing one for A Flood of Kindness? I’m not asking for a diagram, but if you can fill in the areas below. It’s fine to use generalities, and please don’t give your ending away. Feel free to adjust as needed for your book.

  1. Ordinary World: This book opens with the inciting incident.
  2. Inciting Incident: Water seeps into Charlotte’s room.
  3. Rising Action: She goes to the shelter.
  4. Dark Moment: She goes back home and sees that the house is destroyed.
  5. Inner Climax:  She sees people performing acts of kindness and sees a little boy with no toys.
  6. Outer Climax: She gives the little boy her beloved Teddy Bear.
  7. Resolution: She smiles for the first time since the flood.

Plot points for Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets by Ellen Leventhal and Ellen Rothberg, illustrations by Joel Cook, Clear Fork Publishing 2017

I find this arc interesting because it’s almost like it has two of everything—two inciting incidents, climaxes, and so on. And that works to build even more tension than the typical formula. I like a story that has lots of ups and downs.

To blog readers: In my analysis, I intentionally give basic plot points to protect Ellen’s work. It will be important to analyze the book to find how each plot point is fully executed. I’m sorry about the ending, but it is common practice to never give the ending away.

First Part

  1. Ordinary World: Sue Ellen is a cow that dances to her own beat.
  2. Inciting Incident: Max puts up a sign, “Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets.” Sue Ellen loves bluebonnets and announces that Max is not her boss, and she will eat the bluebonnets if she wants.
  3. Rising Action: Bluebonnets are popping up everywhere, tempting Sue Ellen. And no matter how many animals warn her the dangers of eating the bluebonnets . . .
  4. Inner Climax: Sue Ellen makes a decision.
  5. Outer Climax: She eats all the bluebonnets!
  6. Dark Moment: Her friends are all mad at her and her belief system is challenged when the bluebonnets don’t come back.

Second Part

  • New Ordinary World: There are no more bluebonnets in Sue Ellen’s pasture.
  • Inciting Incident: Sue Ellen decides to find a way to bring the bluebonnets back.
  • Rising Action: Sue Ellen tries several creative ways to bring the bluebonnets back, but she fails with each attempt.
  • Dark Moment: Sue Ellen may not find a way to bring the bluebonnets back. Then what?
  • Inner Climax: Sue Ellen realizes how important the bluebonnets were to her, and she’s back to thinking.
  • Outer Climax: When the other animals offer to help, Sue Ellen gets an idea, dashes off, and puts her plan into action.
  • Resolution: I can’t tell you how Sue Ellen solved her problem or how the story ends, but I will share that the ending is satisfying and that Sue Ellen gains a new appreciation for bluebonnets, friends, and rules.

Don't eact the bluebonnets diagram arc

 

 

Plot points for Lola Can’t Leap by Ellen Leventhal, illustrated by Noelle Shawa

Clear Fork Publishing 2018

This story follows more of the classic arc formula.

  1. Ordinary World: Lola comes from a long line of leapers, and she longs to leap, but she has to wait until she’s just the right age.
  2. Inciting Incident: Lola’s birthday—she has finally reach leaping age.
  3. Rising Action: Lola tries in the most fun and entertaining ways to leap the fence, and fails each time.
  4. Dark Moment: Poor Lola. She works so hard, trying in every way imaginable to get over the fence so she can help the babies sleep. But no matter how hard she tries, nothing works. She’ll never help the babies sleep if she can’t leap. Lola gives up. With her head hanging, she heads home.
  5. Inner Climax: When Lola hears a baby’s cry, she decides to try something different.
  6. Outer Climax: Lola puts her plan into action.
  7. Resolution: Satisfying ending with a twist. And the art provides another surprise.

LOLA CAN'T LEAP DIAGRAM ARC

To see some plot points for other books visit Kid Lit Takeaways here

Thanks again, Ellen for taking time to spread your angel wings and share your arc thoughts. I really related to your feelings about being a pantser and writing first drafts organically. I think the more we work with arc, it is naturally in the back of our mind and part of the process, but not the focus on those first drafts. We have to let our characters lead the way. I also hear what you are saying about perhaps having less revision work if we bring the arc into the story earlier in the process. I’m sure that’s why on my first rough draft of a story with my critique group this month, I got a comment back that there are three different themes that I could make my focus. However, I’m not sure I can write from the heart if I were a planner. It’s all definitely a balancing act.

About Ellen

Ellen Leventhal is an educator and writer in Houston, TX. Ellen is the co-author of Don’t Eat the Bluebonnets, the author of Lola Can’t Leap, and the upcoming A Flood of Kindness, which releases in April 2021 from Worthy Kids/Hachette Book Group. She has been published in magazines, newspapers, as well as in poetry and short story anthologies. Ellen loves school visits (in person or virtual)! When visiting schools, she coordinates with and supports literacy programs as well as diversity and anti-bullying programs. Ellen’s best days are when she can interact directly with the students and spread her love of literacy and kindness. To find out more about Ellen’s books and writing projects, please go to www.Ellenleventhal.com

 

Read Full Post »

Donna Cangelosi and Chana Stiefel have interviewed me for their blog KidLit Takaways. Thank you, ladies! In the interview, I share some picture books with good arcs and break them down to show the various plot points. I also offer a 25% discount off my picture book writing course Art of Arc. Because their blog’s theme is “Bite-size bits of wisdom & inspiration for writers on the go!” we weren’t able to include everything from the interview, so I offer some of the outtakes below.

How did you come up with the idea for your online writing class, Art of Arc?

After critiquing hundreds of picture book manuscripts, I saw the same issues repeatedly. As my professional critiques include mini lessons, I found myself recreating the same lessons but customizing them for each story I critiqued. There had to be an easier, more efficient way to do this. And a course was born.

The reason I created a course that focuses on the classic arc is because 90% of the stories I critique are built around that structure. Many successful published picture books are built around an arc on some level. It is the number one structure in picture books. Therefore, I believe this course fulfills a need that has not been available until now. Many courses are taught using the classic arc, but none goes into the detail that this course provides.

Define “story arc.”

Story arc (sometimes called narrative arc) refers to the plot’s development, and character arc refers to the character’s development. Sometimes this can get confusing, with kind of a which came first the chicken or egg type of conundrum. However, usually with picture books, neither comes first because they develop simultaneously as the story progresses. Your character can’t develop unless your plot creates events that instigate your protagonist’s growth or change. Your plot can’t develop unless your character reacts to the plot events through action that moves the story forward, hence developing the plot.

The character arc is the structure that shows how the character develops (grows/changes/or learns) over time. Without a change, the story would be flat, and the reader would not have much to relate to. Usually, the main character starts out with some sort of conflict that he tries to work through, and he is eventually forced to make a choice that leads to his change in thinking or growth. Sometimes the change in thinking is acceptance. Character arc is sometimes confused with character motivation (the thing that makes him take action).

Motivation is the “why” of the protagonist’s action.

The arc is the “how” of the change and growth that occurred because of the action he took.

So, motivation is the driver. It is the energy that moves the protagonist to react or act. His growth is the result of the actions that he took.

Arc determines the ups and downs that set the pace of your story. A good arc is key to engaging readers from beginning to end. There are many picture books based on a similar idea or theme. The arc helps to differentiate one of those same-topic picture books from the other. The narrative arc (also called story arc) is related to the external events and the character arc is about the protagonist’s inner journey, hence the importance of some sort of growth in the character by the end of the story. But still the two arcs form a symbiotic relationship. They rely on each other. The situations and challenges that your characters face are part of the story arc. The choices your character makes and the action he takes that lead to growth and change all fall into the character arc zone.

The main plot points of the story arc include the exposition, ordinary life, inciting incident, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution. Not all picture books show the ordinary life. Many start at the inciting incident.

The beginning of the story usually provides the who, what, when, where, and why of the story. And the protagonist and his problem/goal are introduced.

Describe the class curriculum and learning objectives.

The focus of the course is the storytelling structure that uses a classic arc. The purpose of this course is to deepen writers’ understanding of picture books written with a classic arc and to introduce them to many other picture book structures. The course also addresses a number of common issues I have found in the manuscripts I critique.

The objective of the course is . . .

• To give a strong foundation in storytelling that is built around the traditional story arc
• To teach picture book writers some techniques and structures that will improve existing manuscripts and make future writing stronger
• To provide writers with the knowledge and tools to assist in analyzing their own work prior to investing in professional critiques
• To guide writers through a manuscript self-assessment process that may help prevent submitting manuscripts prematurely
• To show writers how to avoid common writing errors and apply writing elements that will enhance their stories in a way that takes them to a higher level
• To shed light on writing elements previously learned in less-detailed courses
• To expand writers’ ability to revise and polish their manuscripts
• To expand writers’ ability to develop a strong plot

The curriculum is based on the following lessons:

LESSON ONE: BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

LESSON TWO: BEYOND THE HOOK

LESSON THREE: OVERVIEW OF PICTURE BOOK PLOT STRUCTURE

LESSON FOUR: CAUSE AND EFFECT

LESSON FIVE: EPISODIC STORIES

LESSON SIX: THE MIDDLE – FIRST, SECOND, AND THIRD ATTEMPTS TO SOLVE PROBLEM OR REACH GOAL

LESSON SEVEN: DARKEST MOMENT, INNER AND OUTER CLIMAX, ENDING

LESSON EIGHT: SHOWING VERSUS TELLING

LESSON NINE: USING ELEMENTS OF FICTION IN NONFICTION

LESSON TEN: OTHER COMMON ISSUES

BONUS MATERIALS AND WRITING RESOURCES

Describe your background in writing?

I’ve written my whole life. First, I wrote for creative pleasure. Then I wrote in various jobs. I wrote newsletters, processes, and procedures. I wrote greeting cards for a small business my sister and I had. When my granddaughter was born, my interests turned to children’s book writing. I started my children’s writing journey and education with the Institute of Children’s Literature, moved on to their advanced course, and then I started taking courses from authors, editors, and other writing schools. In addition, I went to SCBWI conferences and workshops as well as other writing workshops and webinars. There is a partial list of the courses I’ve taken on my website.

And in critiquing?

I’ve been critiquing for ten years. It started with critique groups. Then as I progressed with my knowledge, I felt the need to help other writers, so I started critiquing people’s manuscripts out of generosity. In the process, I learned things I hadn’t learned in the courses I had taken. Issues that I sensed were concern worthy piqued my curiosity and drove me to research. I was especially interested in understanding plot and arc on a deeper level because I saw so many stories that were missing cause and effect or had no arc or a weak arc. The more I critiqued, the more people would tell me how much I helped them understand and strengthen their story. So, I decided I must be pretty good at this critique thing. After writing hundreds of picture book critiques, I opened my professional critique service in January 2014. In 2016, I was invited by Julie Hedlund to be a Critique Ninja for 12 X 12. This will be my third year as a Critique Ninja. I still give critiques away to help other writers. For paid critiques, I mostly critique manuscripts for my students and alumni because I know that I can refer back to lessons that they should revisit to help them strengthen their manuscripts. My students get a deep discount on critique fees.

What are some of the common mistakes writers make regarding story arc?

There are so many! I could write a book, but I will give a few of the top ones that have major impact on the story.

I see a lot of episodic stories. I explain episodic stories on my blog.

Many stories have a lack of growing tension or lack of variety in action.

It’s common to read stories where it’s not clear who the protagonist is. When I query the author, we often find who they think the protagonist is does not convey in their story. This is usually a sign of an episodic story or a weak or nonexistent arc.

I find that the darkest moment and inner and outer climax are either weak or missing.

There is often a lack of motivation or stakes that drive the protagonist to take action. This and a lack of obstacles (or try and fail scenes) result in a story with very little to no emotional core. The lack of stakes and obstacles prevent the rise in action and the tension that keep the reader engaged.

I see many weak beginnings that don’t hook me as a reader. They don’t create questions in my mind that make me want to keep reading. They don’t set up any expectations that make me want to keep reading.

And then there are weak endings. Just a few examples: The story is resolved too easily. Someone else steps in and saves the protagonist. It might be predictable. There are loose ends left dangling.

Tell us about your writing career.

I covered this pretty much in my answer about my background in writing. I will add that my picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa was my first published book. And it won the Mom’s Choice Gold Medal and the Independent Publisher’s Silver Medal. My first chapter book Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Trying to Make it Rain was released last year. It is the first in a series with three other Sienna books that are scheduled to follow. I have started giving chapter book critiques, and gosh darn it, if I’m not pretty good at those, too 😉

Can you share any success stories from your students?

While some of my clients have signed with agents or sold books to publishers, I don’t believe that it is entirely a result of taking Art of Arc or any one course. I believe that it usually takes a combination of courses (where the author gleans a bit from each one). And then there are critique groups, professional critiques, conferences, and craft books, and on and on. It’s also important to give credit to the determination and the blood, sweat, and tears that authors put into their work. In my opinion, reaching success as a writer usually takes a village. I’m happy that Art of Arc can play a role in the growth of many writers’ knowledge. I will share a few recent comments about the course below.

Michael Samulak said, “I don’t have a ‘success’ story in the traditional sense, but I can at least support the ‘village’ idea and say that the course has helped me with my writing and approach. I recently was able to finish a story that I am currently submitting to agents. I realized how much of my writing up to the ARC has been ideas more than a complete story.”

One of my students, Karla Valenti has signed with Essie White and her picture book Marie Curie and the Power of Persistence has been acquired by Sourcebooks. This is the first book in the My Super Science Heroes picture book series. Following is what Karla shared with me about how Art of Arc impacted her writing.

“So I took your course after I had taken a few other PB courses. What I loved about it was that it (1) reinforced a lot of what I already knew (hooks, story structure, conflict, showing vs. telling, etc) but it provided supplemental material to study, (2) there was a lot of new content that was really useful and that I’d never read before (e.g. episodic stories and using elements of fiction in NF), and (3) you have assembled a truly fantastic list of resources!!

In the end, the exercise of working through all of these materials, truly helped cement (and ultimately internalize) key elements of picture book storytelling which have undoubtedly made me a better writer.

As for how this helped me in my career, the course gave me a number of tools I could use to improve upon my stories as well as the confidence to know that I was on the right track as a writer. It also helped me become better at reviewing my work and critiquing the work of others. This last part continues to be a huge benefit as I find no substitute for reading picture books (published or otherwise) and trying to understand what makes them resonate.

On a personal note, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to also learn from you through your manuscript critiques. It is clear you have a solid understanding of effective and meaningful storytelling, and your insights have been invaluable in helping me develop my own work.”
For those who might be interested, there are many more testimonials on my website.

Other suggestions for picture book writers.

Read, read, read. Read picture books. Read books on writing.

Analyze picture books written with a classic arc. One good way to do this is to write out all the plot points in simple sentences. I find when writing critiques that sometimes getting away from the wonderful writing and distilling the story down to simple, bland steps of the protagonist’s actions, challenges, and turning points, I can see the actual structure better.

You can find more information on Art of Arc on my website. To learn how to get your 25% discount, be sure to visit KidLit Takeaways.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Mentors for Rent

Balanced Advice About Writing for Children and Young Adults

Blog - Anitra Rowe Schulte

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

Ellen Leventhal | Writing Outside the Lines

Children's Writer and Educator

KidLit411

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

Susanna Leonard Hill

Children's Author

johnell dewitt

nomad, writer, reader and aspiring author

Teresa Robeson 何顥思

books * science * nature * art * cultural identity * food

Nerdy Chicks Write

Get it Write this Summer!

Penny Parker Klostermann

children's author

Blogzone

Practical tips to help your writing dreams come true...

Caroline Frye

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

Noodling with Words

Children's Author & Life Coach - Writer's Whole Life Perspective

365 Picture Books

A picture book every day

Julie Hedlund - Write Up My Life

On Living the Dream and Telling the Tale

VIVIAN KIRKFIELD - Writer for Children

Picture Books Help Kids Soar

Carol Munro / Just Write Words

Can't write it yourself? Call Just Write Words.

Jo Hart - Author

A writing blog