Beyond Narrative Arc: Exploring Intentional and Emotional Arcs in Literature

Exposition, rising action, climax, resolution; students have probably studied these narrative elements since elementary school.

However, Melissa Larisch found a resource published by a William Kenower about the use of the emotional and intentional arc.  While this idea was originally intended to explain what author’s should do when writing narrative, some teachers at North (including Sam Bosse) have been using it analyze literature, providing a deeper focus for understanding the nuances of the narrative structure.

As teachers used them, the narrative arc describes the physical action of the piece, the emotional arc describes the emotional development of each of the characters (there may be multiple of these), and the intentional arc describes how the author relays their “deeper purpose” or theme to the audience.

Bosse and I also discussed the possibility of an “arc” for the reader’s response that could be added to this.

In his classroom, groups of students were given one of the three arcs to map out for “To Build a Fire” and put up on the board for comparison and (see below).


These arcs might allow students to “dig deeper” into the text and examine how these different narrative elements interact with one another.  In addition, in accordance with CCS, a teacher might ask student to create arcs for multiple themes and see where and how the themes interact with one another.

I am excited to use this analysis tool in other teachers’ classrooms and explore it further.

Here is a link where you can download a file on the different types of narrative arcs mentioned.

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