What Is a Narrative Arc (or Story Arc)? All You Need to Know

Have you ever gotten lost in a story, joining the characters through every high and low until the very end? You didn’t even want the story to end and it hurt that you couldn’t predict the next turn of events?

That captivating journey is thanks to the narrative arc, the invisible backbone that shapes every great story.

In this article, we will explain how to create your narrative arc to write that blockbuster in which your readers will marvel at your creativity. You’ll also see a narrative arc example.

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What Is a Narrative Arc?

A narrative arc, also called a “story arc,” a “dramatic arc,” or just an “arc describes the course or path that a story takes in literature. It gives the story structure by clearly defining its beginning, middle, and end.

German dramatist and novelist Gustav Freytag developed the idea of the narrative arc by thoroughly examining Greek and Shakespearean five-act plays.

As the name implies, a typical narrative arc takes the appearance of a pyramid or hill when it is mapped on paper.

See also: 42 Common Poetry Terms to Know as a Writer

Why are narrative arcs important? 

A well-written narrative arc holds readers’ attention. It draws people into the narrative and arouses their interest in what will happen next by giving them a feeling of direction and purpose. 

Both writers and readers can gain greatly from understanding the narrative arc. Writers will be able to develop engaging stories of this structure while readers will recognize the hidden craft put into writing their favorite story.

5 Classic Elements of a Narrative Arc

A traditional narrative arc has five elements, in the following order:


This serves as the story’s introduction.

To prepare the audience for the remainder of the story, the exposition provides background information.

This includes presenting the place – the where, the circumstances or period – the when, and the main character or characters – the who.

Rising action

This is when tensions start building up.

Rising action usually starts with an “inciting incident” which is the spark that sets off the primary events of the story

In this stage, the audience begins to understand the true idea of your story. The main characters encounter an issue or difficulty that throws off their daily routine.

See also: Point of View vs Perspective: Differences and Examples for Writers


This is the most-tense point in the story and it’s often the meeting point for all the many characters and subplots. 

The main character usually has to face the truth or make a crucial decision at the climax.

Falling action

When the main character makes a decision, the outcome is what happens here. The character’s choice is what occurs.

conflict gives way to resolution.

The falling action depicts what happens following the big moment. Similar to a rollercoaster’s descent, things could stall out or take an unexpected turn.


Also known as a denouement, this is how your story ends.

A narrative arc’s ending doesn’t necessarily end happily, but it does demonstrate how the story’s events have affected the characters and their surroundings.

At this point, the reader and the characters should be feeling somewhat content and thrilled as they get off the ride.

What Is the Difference Between a Narrative Arc and a Plot?

The individual events that make up your story are referred to as the plot. Alternatively, the plot is what happens in the storyline.

The path or sequence of your plot and how those events create a flow and progression that keeps the reader interested at every turn of the narrative are referred to as your narrative arc.

What Is the Difference Between a Narrative Arc and a Character Arc?

A character’s journey inside a story is known as their character arc, while the narrative arc represents the course of the entire story.

A character arc is internal and only affects one character, but the story arc is external and affects every character.

Typically, a character arc entails conquering an obstacle and developing a new perspective on the world.

The character arc has its chance to shine when the narrative arc starts to descend the pyramid into the falling action and resolution.

This is the moment when a character turns a corner by asking for assistance, picking up a new skill, making a difficult decision, or developing greater self-awareness.

Character arcs are usually reserved for prominent characters, while smaller characters may also experience this kind of growth.

See also: How Many Word Count Are in a Novel? Word Count by Genre

7 Archetypal Narrative Arcs and Literary Examples

These are the 7 main archetypal narrative arcs outlined in Christopher Booker’s 2004 book – The Seven Basic Plot Points. They follow this order;

Overcoming the monster. The main character must stop the person or force threatening them. Example: Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Rags to riches. The main character is poor at first, gets wealthy, famous, powerful, and in love), loses it all, and grows into a better person as a result. Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations is one example. Example: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

The quest. In an epic quest to locate something, someone, or someplace, the main character encounters setbacks along the road. Example: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Voyage and return. After traveling to a foreign land, the main character returns home with fresh insight. Example: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Comedy. The main character encounters a series of confusing but humorous incidents, and they are eventually resolved into a joyful ending. Example: A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare.

Tragedy. The main character makes a mistake that leads to their fall. Example: Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare.

Rebirth. All the experiences make the main character a better person. Example: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

Narrative Arc Example: A Christmas Carol

In this session, we will review the narrative arc of the classic Charles Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol.


In Victorian England, we meet Ebenezer Scrooge. He rejects an invitation to eat dinner with his nephew and ignores poor men who ask for money or food.

The ghost of Scrooge’s late business partner, Jacob Marley, visits him in the inciting incident and advises him to heed the advice of the three ghosts who will soon visit him.

Rising action:

Scrooge is sent back to his terrible early years by the Ghost of Christmas Past, who also reveals to him that Belle, his previous fiancée, abandoned their engagement because he was too consumed by money.

After that, the Ghost of Christmas Present brings him to Bob Cratchit’s depressing Christmas dinner, where Scrooge finds out that his son Tiny Tim is critically ill and could die if his family’s situation doesn’t improve.


Scrooge is shown by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come a future in which he passes away and no one mourns his passing.

Scrooge collapses and vows if allowed to return to the present, to change for the better.

Falling action:

On Christmas morning, Scrooge finds himself transformed.

He gives Bob a big raise, gives the Cratchit family Christmas dinner, and contributes money to charity as atonement for his past misbehavior.


In the end, Scrooge promises to always act with the spirit of Christmas.

See also: What is 3rd (Third) Person Limited Point Of View?

How to Write a Narrative Arc in 4 Simple Steps

The following writing tips can help you develop a narrative arc in your work:

Decide on a classic narrative arc

Consider the story you wish to tell. Is the main character succeeding in overcoming a challenge? Setting off on a mission? Rebirth/improvement? Although it’s not necessary to write exactly like anyone, it can be very beneficial to write with an archetypal narrative arc in mind.

Define your start, midway, and finish

Which characters are the primary ones? What are they doing? What time do they do it? Where do they carry it out? What is the reason behind their actions? Most importantly, though: What is the goal of all of that?

Include your occurrences in a narrative arc

Make a graphic representation of the narrative arc you have selected, then arrange your story’s events along it. Having a brief overview of your story on paper facilitates problem-solving and fills in any gaps. For example, if there are too many events in your exposition, you can declutter, remove some, or reorganize them to fit into the rising action.

Adjust as necessary

Generally, there’s no hard and fast rule requiring you to follow Freytag’s narrative arc. Each story is unique; some focus more on exposition, while others focus on the rising action. Allow yourself to be adaptable and watch where your own story takes you.


When you sit down to write again, think about sketching out a little narrative arc. If you’re ever unclear about where your story is going, this article is a helpful resource that will keep you on course.