Follow Your Heart, Not a Story Arc

Listen to your instincts before applying any rules, or you could lose the essence of the story you wanted to write.

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As writers, we can find ourselves bombarded with a tremendous amount of information on how we should and should not write. These come in the form of rules, guide lines, graphs, advice, suggestions, trends, exercises and constructive criticism to be found in a multitude of places such as writing websites, blogs, and writing groups. Much of this information is priceless—such as experiences of other writers, correcting grammar and punctuation, character building and plot-hole avoidance—but some of the information we find and receive needs to be filtered out of our writing process, especially in the first draft stage, or we risk losing the essence of the story we originally set out to write.

When it comes to deciding upon the structure of your story, I firmly believe you should follow what you feel in your heart, and your gut, and write the story as you truly feel it should be written, without any influence of guidelines.

I’m not saying don’t plan your plot; a little bit of planning in the early stages can go a long way in helping to create a well-put-together story. What I’m saying is, don’t plan your plot while cross-referencing story arcs, acts, and structures, thereby squeezing and constricting your story into a structure that does not feel natural. When I wrote the first draft of the novel I’m currently working on, I hadn’t even heard of story arcs; I was at home, filling time while my daughter napped. I hadn’t learned of all the restrictions and complications and rules, and so I wrote my story with only one guide: my heart.

Once I finished my first draft I attended groups and read writing blogs, and I now know of my story’s short comings and what needs to be improved in the second draft—the unconvincing and robotic dialogue, the characters who always seem to be saved, the tropes and clichés, my absolute lack of comprehension of how to use an apostrophe—but I have my story all written down, in its original and correct order. Then I discovered the existence of the story arc and I had a little panic. I was concerned that the plot of my novel would be nothing like how it was apparently supposed to be. But I needn’t have worried—most of my main turning points fit well enough into a three act structure, or the five act equivalent, and even the seven point story arc—because I’ve watched enough films and read enough books to understand, perhaps subconsciously, the order of a satisfying and compelling story.

All of the guides and advice fiction writers face reminds me of the same barrage of information pregnant women are up against. I remember the heap of leaflets left at each midwife visit, the passing comments and advice from work colleagues, my overwhelming need to buy parenting magazines, and how all of it erased and squeezed out any chance I had of relying on my own instincts. Most cats are good mothers without any pamphlets or pre-natal classes, and are able to deliver their offspring themselves instinctively. All of the information we are subjected to can result in making us forget to rely on how we feel. The same can be said for fiction writers, because too much information can easily make us forget our instincts and our own unique storytelling potential.

When you write your story, don’t let yourself get too concerned or overwhelmed by the bombardment of information—trust in yourself and your story—because if you overthink the details, you run the risk of losing the story you intended to write.

Rebecca Delphine is a Young Adult author from Thanet.

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