E15 | Books | Story Arcs, Giving Shape to Lists of Events



After several weeks off Fantasy, we return this episode with a big topic: Story Arcs. A well researched and developed topic, our conversation brings us across established models, treasured classics, and exciting new works. I also try my first mixed drink on the podcast and Nelson found a way to bring more math to beer! Our What's on our Minds section is long after such a long interlude so we hope you find a recommendation that excites you!

What's on our Flight (00:39)

  • Dalton’s drinking: Cold and Bold Fashioned, recommended to us by out guest Charles in Episode 13. This is my first mixed drink on the podcast, so definitely a new twist on the flights! Made with 1.5 oz coffee liquor (or if all you have is Kahlúa, use 1.0 oz), 1.0 oz bourbon or rye (I used Templeton Rye), and bitters. This drink was dark, boozy, and complex, definitely worth trying if that is up your alley!

  • Nelson's drinking: Boulevard Brewing Co's Space Camper Cosmic IPA. You may make some assumptions about this beer based on the fact that it is an IPA, but Boulevard intentionally adds hops near the end of the boil and during fermentation to reduce bitterness and focus on fruity and aromatic flavors. ABV - 5.9%, IBUs - 50, SRM - 6

If SRM is new to you (as it was to me), here is a handy reference chart! Note that SRM (American measurement) is on the left, with EBC (European equivalent) on the right.

What's On Our Minds (07:09)

It has been a long time since out last Books episode, so there we have read quite a few books over the break! Here are the ones we discussed in the episode:

  • Children of Time by Adrian Tchiakovsky. I had just started this book when we recorded Episode 11 and I absolutely loved it. It is potentially vying for a spot in my top 5, we will see how it holds up. I think it is a story that is almost perfectly told, which is why I am excited to discuss it in this episode!

  • A Wizard of Earthsea and Tombs of Atuan from the Earthsea Series by Ursula K. Le Guin. This book is older than many we read, released in 1968. Soft magic system, but the main character is a magic user, which is uncommon for soft magic. I am eagerly awaiting the third book in the series to become available from Overdrive!

  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Gods brought to America by the belief of immigrants, foreign pantheons I listened through a really interesting version of this novel which uses the Author's cut (~1,000 words longer than the official release) and a full cast of roughly 6 voice actors. I very much encourage experiencing the novel this way if you can!

  • The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Steven King. The first in King's 7-novel fantast/western series, I had only just tipped in to the book at the time of recording so I will hold judgement on this one for now!

  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars, finished a second time by Nelson as he re-watched with his wife! He still speaks highly of it so apparently it holds up through a second viewing.

  • Star Wars: Rebels, an animated series by the same creator/writer of Clone Wars. This show is set after the events of Revenge of the Sith and showcases the birth of the Rebellion several years before the events of A New Hope. The show is not finished yet, but resurfaces later in the topic discussion!

  • Star Wars: Ahsoka by E. K. Johnston (noticing a theme?). This short novel was written about Nelson's second favorite character from the Star Wars universe (Anakin takes first).

  • The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien (in preparation for an upcoming episode!)

  • The Broken Eye (Lightbringer book 3) by Brent Weeks. This book has fluctuated on and off Nelson's list for a while now as he slowly makes his way through it. I am going to need to find a way to motivate him to read faster so we can discuss the epic turns and shakes of this novel!.

The icebreaker question for this episode was submitted by Lady-Nelson! (20:04)


What book would you want to be made in to a movie or TV series with an unlimited budget?

  • Dalton: Pendragon: Journal of an Adventure Through Time and Space by D. J. MacHale (that title is significantly longer than I remembered!). D. J. started his career writing for TV series, writing Pendragon when his imagination surpassed the limits and budget of modern television. The series would make an excellent TV adaptation as his experience in film carried through to the structure and writing of the series.

  • Nelson: Torn between Stormlight Archives and Mistborn Trilogy, both by our most-discussed author, Brandon Sanderson. The first would be incredible to see, but difficult to produce correctly. The later would be beautiful and make a great adult animated series. Nelson decided on Stormlight, mostly because it needs the infinite budget supplied in the question.

Love-of-Nelson's-Life, thank you so much for the question! If you are looking for us to answer a question, submit your question here.

Discussion starts at 30:30 in the episode


The more we prepared for this topic, the more excited we became to discuss it! The Story Arc is the means by which change is affected in the story. Without a Story Arc, a story is just a list of events. It is the up and down, the plot, purpose and movement that makes the story interesting. At its heart, the Story Arc is how the story gets told. We discussed Maslow's Hierarchy in the episode as a means to measure and track the Story Arc, visualizing the "up and down" as movement between positive and negative versions of these categories.


There are several forms that this can take, so to start the discussion we are breaking the Story Arc in to four major sections:

  1. Exposition. This is the introduction, the beginning.

  2. Rising Action. The bulk of the story, this is where challenges and growth occur.

  3. Climax. The turning point, the final fight.

  4. Falling Action. The resolution and conclusion. This shows the results of the actions and decisions made earlier in the story.

Exposition highlights the setting, world building, and "normal" life. The focus is to quickly establish an emotional connection between the reader and the characters. As a result, Exposition rarely contains combat with the exception of a hook. A hook can be used to generate attention and interest immediately, but the story often returns to normal life for introductions of characters and setting (both A Game of Thrones and the first Indiana Jones movie do this). Exposition ends at the Inciting Incident which sets the characters on their journey ("Yer a wizard, Harry!").


Rising Action is the meat of the story. It focuses on growth and development of the characters and plot. Challenges get progressively harder to highlight development. The Martian and Children of Time are two examples of books that do this extremely well as the characters face a natural progression of more complex and difficult challenges to overcome. Expeditionary Force (book 10 was just released!) and, please don't kill us, Harry Potter struggle occasionally with gravity and perspective, making the Rising Action difficult to stay in touch with.


Climax is what we have all been waiting for! You feel the Climax coming the entire book, even if it does not play out exactly as you thought it would. Critical, life-altering decisions and events play out in the Climax. As Nelson put it, "This is where the bad-assery takes place!" There are many examples of excellent Climax scenes throughout fantasy. We called out Mistborn: The Hero of Ages, A Wizard of Earthsea, Star Wars Rebels Season 2, and Ready Player One as examples of powerful Climax moments, and were critical of the way it played out in Mistborn: The Final Empire.


Falling Action gives the reader resolution and finality to the story. The main goal of the Falling Action is to highlight how the growth of the characters since the Exposition. There are many ways to play this out depending on the level of specificity the author wants to apply to each character's resolution. We discussed Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, American Gods (Neil Gaiman), and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood as great examples.


These four categories create a general form for story telling that is widely used throughout fantasy. As with any art form, there are many ways to break from this form. Here are some examples we discussed in the episode:

  • In media res

  • Heroes journey

  • Rags to Riches (Martian)

  • Riches to Rags

  • Man in a Hole

  • Icarus

  • Cinderella

  • 7 Point Model

If you are interested in reading more, here are some sources that can help you out!


https://jerryjenkins.com/story-structures/#story-structures

https://thewritepractice.com/story-arcs/

https://thewritepractice.com/freytags-pyramid/#modern


Thanks for reading! Make sure to refresh yourself on The Lord of the Rings trilogy in preparation for the next book episode scheduled to release in four short weeks!


Cheers!


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