I love the phrase ‘the arc of the story’. I see an arrow in true flight, rising high and piercing the target. A single, loud note sounds (middle C) as arrow and target become one.
Sorting out my story’s arc is not so direct.
I begin with the form I learned in high school, the arc of arrow to target. For three years and two drafts, I attempt to fit my story into this shape. It’s a struggle, and I think the problem is me. A first attempt at writing a book—what do I know?
More than I think I do. I know it isn’t working.
And less. I don’t know there are other shapes for a story, and I don’t know I am free to invent a shape.
The name of a book falls into my lap. Austin Kleon, in his weekly Friday eletter, talks of reading Draft No. 4 by John McPhee. He talks of how John diagrams the shapes of his stories.
I am a visual thinker. I need this book.
Here is a revelation. John’s stories are shaped like algebra equations, like maps, like an uncooperative graph line. Whatever shape fits the story is what he imagines, and then writes to.
Here is freedom.
I go back to my draft. I picture the story in my mind’s eye. All the pieces. All the experiences. I see how my writing keeps circling a set of themes. With each circle, I learn something, and carry that knowledge into the next question and the next circle. A bird rising on the thermals of a summer day.
My story is not the arc of an arrow. It’s the circling rise of a spiral.
This I understand. I know the feel of a spiral. My life moves in exactly this shape, and has always done so. Of course the story I am writing does the same.
I see how my story builds upon itself, how it begins, moves, and completes.
Again I see the bird rising on the warm summer air.
The view from here is exactly right.
In this post:
Austin Kleon’s new book is out!Keep Going, Workman Publishing, NY, 2019. https://austinkleon.com/
John McPhee, bookDraft No. 4: On the Writing Process, Farrar Straus and Giroux, NY, 2017.
Yesterday I discovered ‘Picturing the Personal Essay: A Visual Guide’, by Tim Bascom, on the Creative Nonfiction website. https://www.creativenonfiction.org/online-reading/picturing-personal-essay-visual-guide