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What is the narrative arc in literature?

The narrative arc is the progression of events that make up a story and give it structure. Mckee (1995) defines it as “…a selection of events drawn from the narratives of the characters’ lives, which are composed to create a strategic sequence that produces specific emotions and expresses a vision of the world.”

Story arc components

It can be considered that the one who laid the theoretical foundations on the structure of a narrative was Aristotle. According to him, every story is composed of three acts that make up the arc of the narrative: the beginning, the middle, and the outcome.

  • At the beginning , the author presents a situation, introduces the characters and places them in a certain time and place.
  • In the knot the characters experience a conflict that changes their circumstances. It is also known as a climax , since it is the moment of maximum tension and where what was initially raised is altered.
  • In the denouement , the conflict that arises in the knot is resolved. This resolution gives rise to the ending, which can be happy or not, and can be open or closed.

The order that the author gives to his work can be presented in different ways, in order to generate suspense and emotion in the audience. However, the structure beginning – middle – end, called linear structure , is the most frequent, since the chronological time and that of the narrative coincide.

Field (1979) explored Aristotle’s linear structure and, based on it, restated a model of three acts called approach, confrontation and resolution.

Parts of the story arc

Types of story arcs

Mckee (1995) proposes the existence of three types of narrative arcs: archplot, miniplot and antiplot.

  • The archplot represents a linear structure. In general, in this narrative the protagonist faces a well-defined antagonist in a plausible context and leading to a closed denouement.
  • The miniplot also responds to the linear structure. However, it tends to be simpler than the Archplot and can be intertwined with other Miniplots to tell parallel stories.
  • The antiplot does not have a linear structure. Narratives with this structure exhibit complex time lines and incorporate improbable realities with a development that does not necessarily have a progression.

Typical story arcs

Drawing on mythological stories from different cultures, Joseph Campbell described what is perhaps the most frequent narrative arc in narrative texts: the hero’s journey . Such a trip is composed of three parts: departure, initiation and return.

  • During the game , the hero goes through a situation that invites him to an adventure. This invitation, after being accepted , is transited with the help of a mentor . The hero reaches the first threshold or trial that confronts him with the implications of his decision and plunges him into the belly of the whale , a point at which he recognizes the danger of his journey.
  • In the initiation , the hero faces various tests during which he meets the goddess , a figure that represents the duality between good and evil that the protagonist will experience. Consequently, he will be tempted to deviate from his goal through various pleasures and rewards. By not falling into temptation, the hero consecrates himself and reaches apotheosis ; that is, he evolves. Thanks to this, he reaches the final gift , that is, he uses everything he has learned to achieve his goal.  
  • Upon returning , the protagonist experiences a refusal to return to his initial circumstances. Therefore, he can make a magical flight , that is, leave with his learning for new adventures. However, this situation can weaken him, so he is rescued by his mentor, who guides him towards the threshold of return , in which the hero finds a way to understand what he has learned and becomes a master of two worlds. . This offers you freedom to live , giving you the feeling of being fulfilled.

Similar to Campbell, Mckee defines the narrative arc as a search for something or for oneself, through five main elements that share characteristics with the stages already described: inciting incident, progress, crisis, climax, and resolution.

Despite the fact that the hero’s journey is the typical arc par excellence, a study carried out by the University of Vermont affirmed that Western literature is divided into recurring story arcs:

  • Alice in Wonderland Rags to Riches Arc: The story moves towards a happy ending. Example: “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll.
  • The Wizard of Oz Arc “man in a hole”: good luck runs out, but the protagonist is reborn from his ashes. Example: The “Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum.
  • Christmas story Arc “Cinderella”: begins with a happy situation, followed by a setback, but with a happy ending. Example: “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.
  • Romeo and Juliet “Tragedy” or “Richs to Rags” Arc: Things only get worse. Example: “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare.


Letelier, D., Trejo, M. How to meet your protagonist . Major university. sf

lezama. E. The narrative arc: the structure of a story. Written synthesis . The life of us sf

Legs, A. A Study Reveals the 6 Story Arcs of Western Literature . In Literary News. sf