Storytelling is indeed an art form. What makes one story riveting and another one just meh depends on a writer’s ability to build a compelling story arc. This guide shows you how to plot a story arc that ensnares the reader’s attention from start to finish. Having a story idea isn’t enough to write a bestselling novel, you must have a dramatic structure or narrative arc in place.

What is a Narrative Arc?

A narrative arc also referred to as a story arc, is the overall structure and progression of a story. The narrative arc encapsulates the series of events that drive the story, such as the setting and characters, the primary conflict, any twists and turns that create tension, the apex of the story, and finally, its resolution. The writer begins their storytelling with these basic plot elements in mind and then builds in some complexity to keep the reader engaged until the final page.

Types of Narratives and Archetypal Plot Arcs

You will immediately recognize these common narrative arcs and plot structures:

  • Boy gets girl stories. Boy gets girl, boy loses girl (conflict), boy gets girl back. Authors build interesting details, compelling characters, and complex situations to create amazing love stories.
  • Rags to riches stories. The main character is poor, then falls into wealth, loses wealth (conflict), and finally realizes they don’t need wealth to be happy. Writers may use this common narrative arc in different ways, such as substituting wealth with power, fame, or love.

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

While the narrative arc pertains to the entire storyline, a character arc focuses on a particular character and how he or she changes over the course of the story. Another way to view these terms is narrative arcs refer to external events where character arcs focus on a character’s interior journey. 

How to Plot a Story Arc

When attempting to plot their story, authors may find themselves all tangled up in the minutia of charting out the story arc. The easiest way to plot a story, however, is to use Freytag’s Pyramid. This is a method for building a story arc that was developed by Gustav Freytag, a German playwright in the 19th century. It is referred to as a pyramid because when the elements are plotted according to their momentum, they form a triangular shape. The elements of Freytag’s Pyramid are as follows:


The exposition introduces the story. The author provides basic information, including the main characters, the time period, the setting, and the central conflict or challenge that propels the protagonist and secondary characters toward solving this problem.

Rising action

This is the part of the story when the action intensifies in response to triggers that set the plot in motion. The characters react to the twists and turns they encounter, making critical choices that propel the story toward its climax.


The climax represents the peak of the story’s momentum, where the action reaches the tipping point. This part of the story is designed to captivate the reader’s full attention as they wait with bated breath to see what moves the protagonist will make next.

Falling Action

No story can indefinitely prolong the energy reached at the climax. Therefore, the falling action part of the story arc features the natural de-escalation of tension, as well as the resolution of any subplots. This helps guide the reader toward the resolution or final outcome of the story.


This is the finale, the point in the story when truths are faced, loose ends are tied up, and the main problem is solved. While the end of the story can be either tragic or happy, the denouement allows the reader to absorb and process the final resolution. 

Work With Gatekeeper Press on Your Story Arc

Creating a compelling story arc is more difficult than it may seem. Team up with the pros at Gatekeeper Press for guidance and expertise to help you in this endeavor. We offer professional editing services, such as developmental editing (where the story arc can be clarified), copyediting, and proofreading. Call us today or contact us online!