19 September 2019

Storytelling basics: The story arc

Posted by Shane Hanlon

This post is the first in a mini-series on storytelling in the sciences. By Shane M Hanlon

All good stories have an arc.* A beginning, middle, end. The action goes up and down. The tension leads to twists and turns. So, what does the basic story arc look like? Well:


This is an arc. Or, at this point, it’s a line.

The beginning of the arc is the beginning of the story. Set the scene: where are we? Who are the characters?

Next, the point that sets the story in motion. The stranger that came to town. The beginning of the journey.

Adventures don’t just happen. There’s always something that happens along the way of any good story that adds to the action and makes the audience want to stay tuned.

Finally, after all the struggle, mystery, intrigue…the climax. This is the thing that stories lead to. This is the reason why folks care about the story.

But the story isn’t over after the climax. We need to find out what happens to the characters. What are the implications of the climax?

And in the end, well, there’s an end.

Now, even though a story goes up and comes back down, a key thing is change. Stories are about change and ending in a different place than you start.

Stay tuned for more storytelling tips!

-Shane M Hanlon is Program Manager of AGU’s Sharing Science Program. Find him @EcologyOfShane. Artwork by @squidfan.





*Or at least some sort of structure.