Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Three Narrative Arcs in Making a Book: Part 1 Orange Crush

When someone falls off a cliff, a story begins. When writing or illustrating a picture book, it’s easy to loose your footing. It can be discouraging and even if things are going great, it can still be overwhelming and a lot like falling. That is, until you turn it into flying. I’m sure many of you have seen the following, but if not, you gotta see it. Two points are made: a. You can turn a “fall” into a “flight”. b. Darwin knew what he was talking about.

Whew! O.K., back to story arcs. 1. There is the narrative arc of The Story Itself. 2. The narrative arc of Me Actually Making the Book. 3. The narrative arc of My Life and World During the Journey of making this book. Each of these has, basically, a beginning, a middle, an end.

The Story Itself: If you throw an orange to a friend, the beginning of this “story arc” is the orange leaving your hand. The orange is our protagonist, our hero, or heroine. And she is launched into this trajectory for some reason, some destiny.

The middle is the exhilaration (or terror?) of hurtling through the air-- the orange’s life passes before her eyes. This is life on the edge for her. She is in her prime after all; a plump, succulent citrus. Cold air rushes against her oiled skin. She has no idea where she is going or why and doesn’t care.

Then there is the ending. Is she lovingly caught, welcomed and caressed, gently placed in a blue bowl with her sisters of Valencia? Or does she meet a more sinister end? Dropped? Overthrown, and over the cliff? Does she meet the fate of so many innocent oranges, and end up grabbed by a barbarian and jammed into a juicer? Or worse yet, does she sing as she flies free, beaming at the birds, smiling at the curious ciphers of the high cirrus clouds, basking as she arcs under the also orange sun. Oh, the bliss. But wait, she notices a back lot baseball game coming into focus. Who are these scruffy kids? What are they using as a baseball? And then she knows…


steven said...

such a cool post richard! on so many levels all at once. i love the wingsuit clip of course. there's a longer version of a german guy's work on the refinement of the wingsuit over on the "ted talks" webpage that's incredible!! i'm really looking forward to part two in this series. have a peaceful day! steven

storyqueen said...

I love the part about the three story arcs...so true.

And Richard, I have a funny story to tell you. Last night I did a book signing and a little boy brought a book to the table.

Me: Jake, umm I didn't write this book.

Jake: But I really like it.

Me: It's a good book. I really like it, too.

Jake's Dad: He, er, he really wants you to sign it.

Me: But I....oh well...

What was funny was that the whole time, Jake had been thrusting the book into my hand, it was open to the page before the title page. I kept thinking the little elf looked familiar.....yep! It was 'Twas the Night Before Christmas that you illustrated!

I exclaimed that I knew you, and this made Jake smile...so I signed the book (with something like...I hope you like this book....sorry I didn't write it myself).

Anyway, thought you might want to know....


Julia Kelly said...

Ok- that is a perfect "illustration" of how it is to start/work on/ and finish a book- I'm doing my first one- and it is a mini- 8 pages- and yes- it feels like I am standing looking down the cliff wondering why any sane person would even consider jumping!!
And more importantly- same questions as I watched them soaring- how do you get down to the bottom without killing yourself!! I will now forever- use the "illustration" of throwing the orange to explain story arc!!

Karin Corbin said...

A 360 degree arc ends at the beginning.

Jet Harrington said...

wonderful post - there are layers to everything, and I appreciate the way you have drawn the layers of the stories we tell

also, the wing-suit flyers? beyond crazy - the video had me holding my breath, especially when it showed how close they were to the cliff walls - yikes! I kept waiting for the video to show them landing... apparently there is more to their narrative arc, also.

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Thanks, Steven. I'll check out the Germans.

Shelly, that is so funny. I am glad that you did the right thing and gave Jake what he was hoping for. For him it was the equivalent of getting "dinged" by Tinkerbell. You added a touch of magic to his love of books.

Julia, thank you. I am rooting for you as you "orchestrate" your book project. I know it will be brilliant.

I will remember your comment, Karin. There is hope in knowing that one will complete a given "circle" and reach a place of ahhh, and wholeness. Life has so many ebbs and flows with each creative project, but being "in" the curve of the circle ought to be a place of rest as well (he reminds himself).

Welcome, Jet, thank you visiting. I love that idea of layers. How true. Makes me want to be a more perceptive observer. The more you look, the more you see.

Kat_RN said...

Fun, as usuall. My oranges never get to stay in the bowel for long.

Protege said...

I love the idea of the skiers and the orange illustrating the concept of arcs. I had no idea there was so much science in writing.;)

Claire Rudolf Murphy said...

I love the idea of the many layers of narrative arcs that go into writing and completing a book. I heard about Richard's discussion on this concept at the Inland NW SCBWI conference last September in Spokane. Since it fit so well into what I had been going through building a house, so much like writing a book, but different. The answers for us are out there - interwoven with our different worlds. Richard, I await with baited breath your discussion of the other narrative arcs of a book - the process and our lives/outer world. Your thinking is quite thought-provoking and inspiring for my writing life. Claire Rudolf Murphy

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Thanks, Claire. It is indeed like building a house. One of my most difficult book projects was One Wintry Night, which was basically putting the Bible into a longer picture book format. I struggled so much with it the whole thing, even though it was also marvelous. But our neighbors started building a house when I began the book project. I kept looking out my studio window, hoping that they wouldn't finish the house before I finished my book. They did finish everything except a small gable window, which I fixated on as I dragged myself to the finish line.