Story by Robert McKee is how I was introduced to the Story Arc, a traditional way to tell a story that has proven to be the foundational structure underneath some of the world's "greatest" stories.
Perhaps you've heard of The Hero's Journey - where a story protagonist must complete a quest fraught with trials and tribulations? Yeah, that's just a fancy title for a story arc.
Most times this arc is associated with fiction writing. Welp, today I'm going to show you how you can use this arc to structure any Non-Fiction books you're working on.
Non-Fiction: Memoir, Biography, Auto-Biography, How-To Guide, Self-Help...
The simple definition of non-fiction is written as:
prose writing that is based on facts, real events, and real people, such as biography or history.
Side note: not sure where to classify Poetry. I'm guessing it can fall into either category depending on the subject of the poem. For today's discussion, I'm going to leave poetry out. If you have questions or would like to know how to fit a book of poems into this Arc, let me know in the comments.
With that definition in mind, let me show you how to apply the Story Arc structure to non-fiction.
Inciting incident = where you want the reader to start. This is step one of a how-to; the day the subject of the biography was born or the moment they decided to do the great thing they later became known for. In other words, for non-fiction, this is the point in the narrative that kicks off the entire rest of the book.
Example (excerpts from my upcoming memoir, If Souls Were Tangible Objects):
You may be wondering how my soul came to be in such a state. I’ll tell you, it was words, my love. Words spoken by the greatest orator I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing with mine own ears.
She was taller than me. But then again, I was maybe ten or 11 years old. Everyone was taller than me or so it seemed. Especially the adults.
We were in the sort of cheap seats, quite a bit aways from the stage. But that didn’t diminish her stature. You could tell from the way she stood that she was important, strong; someone you were supposed to pay attention to. But then she spoke. The timber of her voice, its resonance removed any doubt as to where your attention was to be focused.
I describe the moment the power of the written word spoke my soul's purpose into being. It's the point in my life that fully illustrates the theme of the book overall. Even though it's a memoir about a human life, the through line is the power of words.
As you think about the subject of your non-fiction work - from cookbooks to essays based on your political beliefs, think about the theme or central idea you want to convey to your reader, then kick off your book with an essay/anecdote or, yes, the recipe that best introduces that theme to your reader.
Rising Complications = In fiction, these are ever-growing obstacles the lead has to go through on their journey. For your non-fiction book, these are the subsequent steps, essays, recipes, life experiences, etc. that make up the rest of the book.
For books where a human is the subject, I suggest choosing to organize this section of your book in chronological order, picking experiences that build on each other, or show a progression of some sort. These experiences don't need to be overly dramatic or extreme as long as they lead the reader to the next chapter.
Crisis = Think Thanos and the snap, or that moment in the Civil Rights movement in the 60s when Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot. It's that moment in most fiction when it seems all is lost and the protagonist (lead character) is faced with the ultimate decision, the culmination of their quest rests on what they do in this particular moment.
In non-fiction, again, if your story is centered on a human lead, this is the point in their life when the ultimate situation takes place. The "happening" that turned them into the person you decided to write about, the point in their life that captured your attention and will in turn grab your reader by the emotions.
If it's a cookbook, this section is the desert, the finishing touches on the recipes that made for a fabulous main course.
If it's a self-help or how-to, this is where you're helping your readers face the absolute hardest part of the transformation or lessons you're teaching them.
Resolution = the wrap-up, the come down from all the "drama" that came up during the crisis.
Non-fiction writers, this section of the book is where you wrap up the incredible journey of truth, facts, and learning you have taken your reader on. You're going to tie up any loose ends, maybe promote your services, and give them a summary of all that came before.
Next post, we'll practice building Story Arcs. Click below to download a copy of the Story Arc for your files.
Once you've downloaded it, if you'd like to practice on your own, check out my Sista in Self-Publishing, Willmetta Owens of Fantabulous Words. She'd doing story prompts over in her blog. You might find one that sparks your imagination.
Meanwhile, I'll see you back here next week for our practice sessions.
I'll see you next week! Sending light and inspiration,