Mapping Out Narrative Structure and Author’s Intentions

I had previously posted about the use of the intentional, emotional and physical arc to analyze literature.  I used these concepts, with the addition of the “reader response” arc, with Susan Turley’s HTS 11 class last week to analyze “Where are you Going, Where Have You Been” by Joyce Carol Oates.

The learning targets for the lesson were as follows:

  • žI can identify how writers engage readers through their purposeful development of narrative structure.
  • žI can analyze a text using the arc structures and share my findings with a group in a meaningful way, tying my arguments back to textual evidence.

We began by introducing the concept of the arcs via a Power Point and a diagnostic/notes sheet of narrative terms (see the bottom of this post for resources).  Fortunately, the students were engaged by the ideas presented, and while introducing the emotional arc, the class had an interesting conversation about the possibility of a “flat” character who was also “dynamic.”  Unfortunately, the lesson probably should have been stretched out over three or so days, and we tried introducing it and working with the arcs in the same class period, so we really didn’t get to flesh out the process.

After the initial introduction, students were all asked to define and plot out the intentional arc first, and then also plot an additional arc (reader response, physical or emotional) over top of it.  The students struggled using the arcs because no one was really sure what it should “look like” when they were put on paper.  Since then, I have thought of some ideas that might make this easier.  For example, plotting out five pivotal plot points on the bottom axis and then using them as anchors to graph the changes in emotional or intentional arc as they are relevant in time to those points.

In the long run, the goal of the lesson would be for students to “share out” their arcs and justify their choices with evidence.  We did not get this far, but I think this would be an interesting conversation because the intentional arc for each of the groups will be different.  This being said, I think a debate could even ensue on which narrative arc structure is most accurate or logical.

I would really like to do more work with these in the classroom.  I think they are an interesting tool that has a lot of possibility.  In addition, I have been fortunate enough to be in direct contact with their creator, William Kenower, and he has created some short videos for us about the teaching the intentional arc in literature.

Here is the first of the three videos:

The rest of them can be viewed on his Youtube channel.

Here are the resources for this lesson:

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