Pssstt…hey buddy, what’s a narrative arc?

Okay, I confess.  I have been hearing about and reading about the “narrative arc” for a while now and I still don’t know quite what it means.  I think it’s like, you know, how a story starts, builds to a climax and then is resolved.  I don’t know why it’s called an arc.  I would think calling something a good story implies that it has an arc; actually, saying “plot” implies an arc.  If it didn’t have an arc people would say it has no plot.

I guess I will find out eventually if there is something specific about the term that’s required to meaningfully discuss creative nonfiction.

I was thinking about that today because I started reporting for a story I’ve wanted to do for a while, and which will probably become my first school project (my mentor and I having decided that I can start with short pieces and see where I go from there).

On my way home from the first interview related to the story I had a mental and creative breakthrough.

I realized that if I write this as a feature article it’s a different entity from a piece with a “narrative arc.”

I may well pitch a newspaper-appropriate version of the story as a feature article, but whatever the fate of that query, I have moved into a new field where it’s not enough to introduce the reader to awesome, interesting stuff, including sharp details and great quotes, organized so it’s understandable and evocative of what we normally read in magazines and newspapers.

That’s journalism.  I am now learning to write creative nonfiction.

And that means I need a story, not a “story” like a reporter would write, but a story like a writer would write.  By George I think I’ve got it.

Now that I’ve figured that out, I looked at my notes and started trying to find the story, with a beginning, middle and end, that lies among the facts I’m collecting.  Discovery one: I am going to need to do a whole lot more reporting, particularly interviewing the subjects.  Discovery two: I think I am going to need to do a timeline like Suzannah used to scrawl across the board in our workshop at the residency.

Well, at least now I know what the heck I’m supposed to be doing.  [By the way, isn’t that an awesome graphic?]