Putting It All on Paper — Melissa Gilbert

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A few things happened that led to this post.  Let me fill you in before we get started.

  1. I’ve been a reader of the Jane Yellowrock series since the beginning, and I love the series, and Faith, of course.  (I’m a Beast Claw, a member of her street team, too!)
  2. I had a chat with Faith about wanting to get into the publishing/editing world and what all that entailed.  
  3. She suggested that I research story arcs, read Black Arts, and work up a discussion of the pacing of the arcs.  Yeah, she gave me a homework assignment.   
  4. That homework assignment developed into this post.

The first thing I needed to learn concerning story arcs was…what in the world is a story arc?  I hit Google and learned that a story arc is the course the action takes along a story line.  There can be multiple arcs in each book and arcs that span a series (series arcs). 

The structure of an arc begins with a state of normalcy.  Things are the way they are, and life is normal.  Then something happens that disrupts the normalcy, and that’s usually where the arc really starts to get interesting and often where the story begins.  A character can do two things at that point.  The character can (1) try to get things back to normal or (2) adjust and the change becomes the new state of normal.  As part of the journey to return to normal or adjust, there will roadblocks, and the character will probably have to make a critical choice at some point.  Once that choice is made, there is no turning back, and the result of that choice often leads to the climax of the arc.  The arc ends once the character has either gotten things back to normal or accepted to the new normal. 

 

Here’s a basic diagram of a story arc.

 Story Arc flow chart

 

 

NOTE: If you haven’t read Black Arts and want to avoid spoilers, I suggest quitting reading right now because–with Faith’s permission–I am going to give away all the goods!  

In Black Arts, there are several story arcs: the disappearance of Molly, Bliss, and Rachael; the gather that Leo requests; and the Mithrans who turn to ash/sick blood servants; Jane’s relationship with Rick; and Jane’s interactions with Adrianna.    Within those arcs, other smaller arcs also exist, and those arcs sometimes intersect.  In my opinion, that complexity is what makes for a good story. 

When I started working on this project, Faith told me that she thought one arc progressed too slowly, and one progressed too quickly.  She wanted me to find out which one did what.  (By the way, I worked on this project for a total of about 4 days, which included the story arc research.)

To accomplish this task, I opened up a document on my computer and started writing down notes.  I started a new section each time a new arc appeared and wrote a few words or a sentence about what happened as each progressed.  I also kept track of page numbers.  Eventually I noted where arcs intersected and narrowed it down to disappearances, attacks, and relationships with smaller arcs under those broader categories.

Let’s start with what happened too slowly.  Near the beginning of the novel (page 53 to be exact), Jane finds out that some Mithrans are missing having turned to ash where they stood.  This is a change from normal, but the arc doesn’t put Jane on a quest to solve the problem because she is quickly told that Wrassler is handling it.  Thus, the arc stops for more than 100 pages.  This arc is mentioned again on page 160, but again, only briefly.  It doesn’t begin to matter until nearly another 100 pages later when it intersects with the arc that includes Molly.  Jane doesn’t become invested in the quest until the end of the book, which means that the arc is too slow in moving from inciting incident to journey for the main character.

On the other hand, two arcs in this story move too quickly.  The first is the end of the arc for Leo’s security request at the gather.  There is a nice rising action, a clear choice with consequences, and a climax.  But, the remainder of the arc is summed up in one paragraph.  Thus, after the climax of the arc, it essentially stops rather than bringing readers back down with a gentler curve. 

Another arc that moved too quickly, and probably the worst offender, is Rick’s appearance and actions.  (Seriously, if you don’t want major spoilers, stop reading now!) 

Rick has been a major love interest for Jane since Skinwalker, and he has a pretty good following of Team Ricky-Bo fans.  Rick was only briefly present in Black Arts, but his arc is extremely important.  Because of the importance of this arc, I believe it should have moved much more slowly.  Rick appears on page 172 and is gone by page 200, possibly forever.   Rick appears, which is the inciting incident, and there is significant romantic tension between Rick and Jane.  Beast has her opinions too, of course.  The arc seems to be moving fine until just a few pages later when Rick and Jane go to work at the gather.  A new character, Paka, appears, Rick falls madly in love with his new mate, and he is gone.  Just like that.  He’s gone. Probably forever. It’s no wonder Jane fell apart for few pages!  The inciting incident and critical choice are there, but the rest of the arc is rushed, especially because this arc is so important to the development of not only this book but to the series as a whole.

The first time I read Black Arts (an advance review copy – ARC, haha…) I didn’t really notice these things.  But, once I started looking at the book from a different perspective, I started to notice little blips on the radar.  They’re not things that could make or break the success of the novel, especially one that is part of an already successful series, but if it were a standalone book, they might pose bigger problems.  Reading is sort of like riding in a boat.  If you’re along for the enjoyment of the ride, you might not notice all of the little things because you get caught up in the moment, but if you are in the same boat looking for sunken treasure, you’ll notice every little detail and change in the water hoping for a sign that something lies beneath the surface.  It’s definitely a different way to read.

Overall, I believe the book is solid and well written.  It definitely leaves room for things to develop in Broken Soul, the next in the series.  Maybe Faith will let me play with that one too.   This was fun.

 

Melissa HeadshotMelissa Gilbert currently lives in Rock Hill, SC, but she was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains.  She is an aspiring author, blogger at The Enchanted Alley, and a freelance editor at Clicking Keys.  She has taught as an adjunct English instructor for over eight years and has worked as a writing tutor for five years.  She is currently working on her first novel and finishing her last semester of graduate school. 

Facebook: www.facebook.com/melissa.m.gilbert

Twitter: @mlssglbrt9

Web: enchantedally.wordpress.com and clickingkeys.wordpress.com

 

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