Story arcs in fiction

Home learning focus

Learn about how story arcs are used to structure stories and keep fiction readers engaged.

This lesson includes:

  • one video to help you understand how story arcs help to structure stories
  • three activities

Learn

Hooking a reader into any piece of writing is essential. The opening has to engage the reader, or they simply won’t want to read any more. Beyond this, structure is important to maintain a reader’s attention throughout a text.

One way a narrative is structured is through its story arc, the pattern of events that progresses a story and brings it to an ending – a story arc might have the following elements:

  • exposition - an opening that hooks the reader and sets the scene
  • rising action - action that builds tension
  • climax, or turning point - the most dramatic part of the story
  • falling action - actions that realise the effects of the climax
  • resolution - the conclusion of the story

Now watch this video, where two contestants on a radio game show have to create a short story. One of the main things they need to think about is how to quickly create an engaging story arc.

Two contestants take part in a radio short story competition

The story arc plays a part in engaging the reader. It is a way of framing your story to a plan.

A story arc can help to engage readers in a variety of ways – different elements of the narrative might be used to:

  • create intrigue
  • create drama
  • surprise readers
  • build tension
  • offer readers a sense of satisfaction
  • shock readers

Practise

Activity 1

Read more about story arcs and other techniques that successful fiction writers use to engage readers in this study guide.

Make sure to take the quiz at the end.

Activity 2

Think about one of your favourite novels or films. Can you identify the events in the plot that make up the story arc? How do these engage you?

Try completing a table like this:

Part of the story arcPlot eventHow this engages the audience
exposition
rising action
climax
falling action
resolution

Hint

To help you, here is an example showing the story arc of Cinderella.

  • exposition - Cinderella’s mother has died and the stepmother moves in with her two daughters.
  • rising action – the ‘ugly sisters’ make Cinderella do the housework and don’t invite her to the ball.
  • climax – with a little help from her fairy godmother, Cinderella makes it to the palace ball and dances with the prince.
  • falling action - the prince finds Cinderella’s glass slipper and travels the country to find her.
  • resolution – despite the efforts of the ugly sisters, the prince finds Cinderella. They get married and live happily ever after.

Activity 3

Imagine you’re entering a short story competition. Entrants have to write a short story with the title: 'The Decision'.

Try planning your short story using a table like the one you completed for Activity 2.

If you’d like to and have time, you could try using this plan to write your story.

Where next?

In this lesson you have learnt about story arcs and their function in hooking a reader and keeping them engaged throughout a piece of fiction.

There are other useful articles on Bitesize to help you look at fiction and structure.

Please note: Bitesize revision guides are split by exam board - to check if there is a specific version of a guide for your board, choose your subject and then exam board here.

There's more to learn

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