Jun 3, 2011

Chapter Arc

This is for Ruth, who asked me what a chapter arc looks like.

This is a general model, so not every chapter will look just like this, but it's always where I start.

Every chapter has a place and a purpose in the book.  Together, chapters blend with and reflect each other to tell the bigger story of the novel.

I often see the larger story taking shape around a series of Aha! moments.  It's the purpose of the individual chapter to show how a character reaches that moment and how the response builds to the next rising action (and the next Aha!).

Sometimes I don't end with the resolution itself, but rather with the promise of a resolution. The reader has to move into the next chapter to find out what the character decides and what problems arise--and thus the action rises again.

Even when this is the case, I plot with the resolution of the chapter on the card detailing the chapter purpose. I can always go back and change the chapter divisions later.

With this model, every chapter has a strong internal structure and a purpose within the novel. Even though I'm seldom able to envision all the details of a novel at one time, I'm always able to see the details of an entire chapter.  If I know the chapters flow together well to tell the story, I can focus on making that chapter the best it can be. Strong chapters make strong novels.

Many thanks to Ruth for asking the question


  1. This will help me alot better when it comes to writng the story that i have started working on

  2. Thanks for this diagram. I am dealing with a naughty chapter right now that doesn't know exactly why it's there. This will help me screen it, save it or trash it. I hope.

  3. That's the clearest explanation of an arc I've seen to date. Thanks, Johanna. It's a big help.

    Take care,