The Narrative Arch
I never thought I'd write a novel.
Long ago I got an MFA in poetry, and soon after branched out to write creative nonfiction as well. Art crafted around moments as real and solid as stone.
Plot intimidated me.
Then about four years ago, I started writing a picture book. But no, it wouldn't stop. It had more to do, to say. What was this thing? I did some research and discovered the world of middle grade fiction, the novels with main characters around 12 years of age that are more complex in language and plot than early chapter books, but more about belonging and less about sexuality than young adult novels.
Strangely enough, the plot of my adventure fantasy came pretty easy in general. But there are many levels to plot, and pacing and tension are perhaps the most important in kidlit because of the audience's attention span. Lucky for me I enjoy revising.
Last month I took a roadtrip to Vermont to spend time with a writer friend, and we visited Rock Scissors Paper gallery and workshop. Thea Alvin's mortar-less stone arches spoke to me. Actually, they shouted. I live in a world of metaphors, and here I was surrounded by the narrative arc in all its variety, improbability, and beauty.
Thea Alvin builds wooden frames for her projects and places the rocks, gaging the pressure they exert on each other, using gravity to her advantage to lock the parts together. When she's done, she gives the structure a shake. If it's solid, she takes down the wooden frame.
If not, she revises.
There is no use trying to prop up a stone arch or a narrative arc. They must stand on their own. For my purposes, the rocks are inciting incident, rising action, turning point, falling action, rock bottom, climax, and denouement.
The readers provide the gravity. It's up to me to get the tension right so nothing comes crashing down.
I write, read, recreate, and raise kids in rural Pennsylvania. I teach part-time in Outdoor Recreation Leadership, Creative Writing, and Women's Studies at Mansfield University.