The basic story arc is built upon a basic plot. It has a beginning, a middle, and an ending. It also had one very important ingredient added! It has a character with a problem.
You may have an idea for a children’s story or are already writing a children’s manuscript. Let’s say the idea is about an adorable kitten. You write about how the kitten is playful and sweet. You write about how the kitten wakes up, plays with a ball of yarn, chases its tail, and then curls up for a morning nap in the sunshine. There! You’re pleased with your story. In fact, the writing is very, very good! You’ve edited and polished it until it shines. Your story is finished and you submit it to a publisher with hopes of young readers (and editors) falling in love with your kitten as much as you have!
Unfortunately, most magazines or book publishers won’t offer you a contract for your story. Why? Because it doesn’t have a story arc. Yes, it has a beginning. The kitten woke up. Yes, it has a middle. The kitten played with a ball of yarn and chased its tail. Yes, it has an ending. The kitten curled up for a morning nap in the sunshine.
The key ingredient that is missing, however, is that your main character doesn’t have a problem. Without a problem, your manuscript is just about a series of events. Without a problem, your manuscript has no story arc.
A basic story arc starts with a problem. What kind of a problem, you may ask? Think Three Little Kittens Lost Their Mittens. The main character, or in this case three main characters, has a problem that is established in the beginning of the story. The three little kittens are in trouble with Mama because they have lost their mittens. This is the starting point of the basic story arc.
In the middle of the story, the main character makes attempts to solve the problem. The action rises in the story and the tension builds as we read about the main character’s efforts to reach her goal. Sometimes the efforts are successful. The three little kittens found their mittens. Sometimes the efforts create an even bigger problem. After the three little kittens found their mittens, they ate pie and got them dirty. They got in even worse trouble with Mama. This is the middle of the basic story arc.
At the end of your story, your main character solves the problem. The three little kittens washed their mittens. Now they’re not in trouble any more. In fact, now they are all set to chase the mouse that scampers near by! This is the end of the story arc. This is the end of your story.
In the beginning of the story, a basic story arc establishes the main character’s problem. In the middle of the story, a basic story arc shows the action building and the tension rising as the main character tries to solve the problem. In the ending of the story, a basic story arc shows the main character solving the problem.