Monday, September 15

Plot Your Novel With Mini Arcs

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

If you’re not the type of writer who likes to plot out an entire book before you start writing, but you’re also not the type of writer who can just wing it and have it turn out well, try breaking your novel into story arcs and plotting those one at a time.

This is a technique I use for revisions, but it’s just as useful a tool for those who fall in the middle of the outliner/pantser spectrum.

Step One: Pick Your Arcs


Look at each section of your novel. Maybe you prefer the Three Act Structure, or Hague’s Six Part Plotting Structure, or even Snyder’s Save the Cat format. Decide what parts fit your natural writing style (Do you like figuring out three chapters at a time, or one full story arc, or an entire act?). Then treat that as a mini arc, with a beginning, middle and ending just like a full-sized novel.

The beauty of a novel is that the smallest pieces are structured the same as the entire novel. It all follows the same beginning-middle-ending structure, from a sentence to a chapter to a story arc. A good mini arc will have conflict, raise the stakes, and offer an intriguing reveal (and new questions) to move the story forward.

Step Two: Create Your Arcs


Treat each arc as if it were the entire novel. Look at the goal for that section or arc and pretend that’s the ending you’re shooting for. Maybe your beginning is all about getting your protagonist to discover she has a secret power. The discovery of that power is the climax of that arc. Within that arc will be all the same things as the full novel, just on a smaller scale. That piece will fit into that larger plot like a puzzle piece until the full “image” of the story appears.

Look at that arc and ask:
  • How does this arc begin?
  • What is the protagonist’s goal? (what is she trying to do for that arc?)
  • What is the choice the protagonist makes to drive the story forward? 
  • What is keeping the protagonist from getting her goal? (the conflict)
  • What is the midpoint reversal? (what’s learned or discovered in this arc?)
  • What are the stakes? (what does she want to avoid by doing this?)
  • What is the end crisis? (what escalates the stakes or goes wrong?)
  • How is it resolved? 

Then move on to the next piece and plot the next arc, or dive right in and write that arc if need to write (and understand) more about the story before you can move on.

What makes this smaller focus work is that an entire book can be overwhelming to plot—especially if you’re not sure what happens. But mini arcs are more manageable and allow you to work with the immediate scenes and problems without worrying about what comes next and trying to force the plot to head in that direction.

The down side here is that it could work too well and lead you off your plot entirely, so it’s not a bad idea to keep your story’s end goal in mind as you plot or write your mini arcs. If you know the end goal of the novel is to get Dorothy back to Kansas, a plot that leads her to find a life of happiness with a munchkin isn’t going to get you there no matter how well the writing (and plotting) is going. But if you decide that plot is way better—by all means go for it.

Plotting with mini arcs can be a handy tool to break your novel into smaller, more manageable pieces that keep the story moving and the ideas coming.

Do you look at your novel in pieces or as a whole? Or a mix of both depending what stage you’re at?

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).


A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Indie Bound

7 comments:

  1. With my WIP, I looked at the manuscript as a whole initially, however, I am going to try this mini arc concept and see what happens. (Once I start writing again that is.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post, Janice, that I'll share with my class. As I'm getting ready to start the 4th draft of my book, I may just try this as I tackle each Act (using Save the Cat). I need a roadmap and breaking it into bits and pieces helps me feel less overwhelmed!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great post as always. I'm bookmarking this and sharing it. Thanks for such good, crisp explanations of helpful information.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Elizabeth above shared this and I had to come over and read the article. Good post and thanks, Elizabeth!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Abdulaziz A. askerDec 11, 2014, 11:55:00 AM

    Animes and Mangas are full of those mini arcs (except Death Note?)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That doesn't surprise me. With the shorter formats and serial nature, they always have to have several things going on.

      Delete
  6. Right now I am trying to figure out a series arc and then the shorter book arcs, so I am working back and forth from big to smaller and back again. Thanks for the extra advice on arcs. Merrie day,

    ReplyDelete