By Al Kalar
Make your characters grow
The arc, or climax, in a story is the place where most of your accumulated problems come together. It’s the rescue, the big battle, the proposal where the girl says “yes”, landing the big job, getting away with the heist or getting caught. It’s usually the most dramatic scene (with the possible exception of the start) in the book.
For a non-fiction work, it may be where you tie all your lines of logic together, the proposal, or exposition of the consequences of what happened before in a history work. It’s the point towards which you were going with the front portion of your book.
Here is where your writing needs to really shine. A poorly written final climax can spoil the entire work. You’ve spent most of the book getting here, so don’t skimp on it. In the movies, this is where the explosions and screaming happen; your arc should evoke as much emotion (or determination to do something) as a movie arc.
Coming of Age
The arc is often the place where your main character realizes his/her major “growth” spurt or complete degradation. It’s all a matter of where you were going with your character
Jane finally decides to quit being a punching bag for her bully of a husband and divorces the bum. She also turns him in for his drug trafficking and during the arc, he’s served with the divorce papers just before the cops arrest him.
Henry overcomes his basic cowardice, crawls out of his foxhole, and heroically rescues his platoon.
John realizes the manipulative blond he’s been chasing is really a gold digger, dumps her in a stormy scene, and proposes to Tess Truly who’s been supporting him all along.
Betty overcomes her shyness, steps onto the stage, and sings a concert that ends with a standing ovation as an agent in the wings waits with a million dollar contract in his hands. The agent says, “She’s gonna be a star!”
Herkimer, now completely depraved, is caught in the act of his third, and most gruesome murder, and is gunned down in a fight with the police. If you wish, his third victim is saved by this police intervention.
Here’s where you make your pitch. You’ve laid the groundwork, now it’s time to tell your audience what you want them to do. This is the “arc” of persuasive writing.
You ask for the money to complete your proposed project
Tell the reader to get involved in “saving the planet” or fighting the “save the planet” movement.
Propose a lifting of the bans on offshore oil drilling and drilling in Alaska / or / propose making the bans permanent.
Having demonstrated to the Product Committee the wonderful profits that await when they add the Spoiled Brat Doll to their product mix, it’s time to ask them to say “yes” and instruct the plant to tool up for the new product.
History is a series of “what happened” and “what resulted from the happenings”. This is where you tie together the historical threads into the consequences of the actions that preceded it.
When the Roman populace discovered they could vote themselves goodies from the public purse, the state became decadent. Rome’s decadence resulted in a weak state that could no longer fend off the barbarian hordes that threatened it. Now, it’s time to point the results out or, if your history lesson is also a warning, to point out that the same thing is happening today and “we” (whoever “we” is) are heading down the same dead-end path.
Hitler’s early life prepared him (or drove him) to get into politics and to establish a new government using strong-arm tactics. The consequences were World War II, disaster for Germany, stronger occupation than that which followed World War I, a divided state, the economic rise of West Germany, and (after another series of historical events) the reuniting of East and West Germany. One of these events can be the “arc” of your book.
Often a story has multiple arcs. A series of battles leads up to the “big battle” where Jerry realizes that he really doesn’t want to be in the military /or/ Jerry realizes that he really does love war.
Jane’s divorce is an arc. Landing a job after going back to school and struggling to support her rebellious son is an arc. Several bad relationships can each be an arc. Bailing her son out of jail and a bad scene where his mounting problems come out is an arc. Meeting and landing Mr. Right who is the only guy her son can relate to, can be the final (big) arc.
John, who started out as a bum and a devout atheist, meets Harvey, a Christian who gives him a job (a small arc). John and Harvey have a verbal fight over religion (another arc). John storms off, but Harvey entices him back to work (another arc). John hits an emotional low and finally accepts Christ (a major arc). John gets with the program and starts doing good works. He meets a woman at church and they get married (another arc). He finally dies with half the town attending his funeral. He wakes up in Heaven and God gives him an “atta boy” (the final arc).
History is full of arcs (see the series on Hitler above). Your fiction or non-fiction book can do the same.
Most books have multiple arcs. If your story doesn’t lend itself to multiple arcs, don’t try to force them. Heck, some stories don’t even have a final arc.
There can be multiple arcs, but the final arc is still the most important and you should trot out your best writing for this event. (Okay, you should be using your best writing for the entire work, but this is definitely not the place to relax).
Not all stories or books have a final arc, but most do.
This is where “it all comes together”.