Monthly Archives March 2014

Critique Technique, Part 45 — No Story Arc

Let’s begin by describing what a story arc is, since it’s a good bet new writers in particular won’t know. Story is conflict, and the longer the story, the more conflict there needs to be. Story arcs plot the trajectory of each level and layer of conflict. Just as a map lets you see the layout of the terrain of a place, the story arc lets you see the layout of the conflict in the story.

An arc is a curved line, perhaps a part of a circle or some other figure, like an ellipse or oval. For our purposes, the best image is part of the outline of an egg, taking in the pointed end and part of the sides leading toward the flatter end. The sides aren’t even and the whole thing is tipped over, something like this (pardon my poor drawing skills).

The story arc, annotated with key points

The longest part of the cur...

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Critique Technique, Part 44 — Pop Goes the Reader!

A toy jack-in-the-box
By United States Consumer Product Safety Commission [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This article starts a series on general story-telling problems and how to identify and critique them.

One of the worst things a writer can do is to write something that “pops the reader out of the story,” in other words, write something that so distracts or surprises them that they fall out of the “fictive dream,” the world of the story, and think, Wait… what?

Pop Starts

This can happen in many different ways.

The author can use an unusual term. As I discussed in Part 17, “unusual” can mean several different things.

  • A foreign or slang word or phrase, a jargon term, or writing in dialect, especially if such words have not been part of the story before.
  • A made-up wor...
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Critique Technique, Part 43 — Telling, Not Showing

Hand painting flowers
Image courtesy of PANPOTE /

“Show, don’t tell” is one of the oldest dicta in all of writing, although one prominent writer growled, “I’m a story teller, not a story shower.”

That, of course, misses the point: we illustrate or exemplify—in other words, show—a character’s emotions or attitudes by telling the reader what they did or how they behaved. Showing applies to inanimate objects as well, by describing the effects the object had on the other objects or the people or animals in the scene.

Showing, then, is a specialized form of telling.


The best way to explain this, of course, is not to tell you about these differences but to show them to you, starting with a couple examples about people.

Telling: Alice felt sick.

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