When is a Story Arc not an Arc?

When it takes another shape!

Meander, Spiral, Explode, by Jane Alison

I’d have found a bit more value in Meander, Spiral, Explode had its author also detected variant patterns in some rather more time-tested fiction (just because a novel is old doesn’t mean it must needs have been written in Aristotelian fashion), but she limited her observations to authors of recent works unknown to me. I had suspected the existence of different story structures, and will be looking for the patterns from nature in everything new I read, as well as in re-reads of old favorites.

As the author of the book maintains, it’s not necessary for every story to take the simple, caret-shaped, Aristotelian dramatic pattern (which Aristotle used to describe stage plays, anyway). It’s probably okay for short fiction, but it may be a bad idea for novelists to attempt to force their stories into the classic arc shape – especially if they’re organic writers. In fact, if they write Literary Fiction (especially the kind with a cast of thousands), they would probably end up with this kind of pattern, which was an astronomical map based on how the night sky seems to behave, to the naked eye:

Cassini Apparent Astronomy, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1st ed., 1777

Read more about this kind of shape here.

The natural shapes of things.

The patterns of nature are what inspired Meander, Spiral, Explode. You can learn about natural patterns in this video, which is my absolute favorite science documentary:

The shape my storytelling takes:

I’m an organic writer (also known as a pantser), and Irish Firebrands, written with no advance plan or outline, exhibits a distinctly meandering path:

Read more about this shape here.

It also takes the shape of a heartbeat wave-form, which seems particularly apt, since it’s a love story.

Read more about this shape here.

What natural shape does your fiction take?

Please tell us about it in the comment box!







Fractal branching pattern

Simple branching pattern

Double helix

Single helix


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