Tagged narrative arc

Three Narrative Arcs Video from Creator Bill Kenower

“What we call ‘the story’ really exists beneath the surface of events, or what is happening.  What we call the study of literature, the study of fiction, is really a process of seeing deeply into life.  And in my experience, the deeper we can see into life, the wiser we are, the more compassionate we are, the more empathetic we are.”

-Bill Kenower, from The Three Narrative Arcs, referring to the “Intentional Arc” of a story

This video is a continuation of the resources provided by Bill Kenower for teachers to use while analyzing narrative structure.  As mentioned previously in posts, Kenower has been using the arcs (physical, emotional and intentional) to teach writing and has recently become interested in helping teachers use them to analyze literature as well.  This video could be a precursor before delving more deeply into the intentional arc videos posted previously.

This analysis framework can help students to understand what writers do with intention to craft a story.  I often hear of teachers struggling to help students understand “theme,” and I think this is one effective way to get to that deeper understanding.  In addition, the more students are able to identify writer’s craft in others’ work, the more likely they will be to be able to utilize such tools as theme and character development in their own writing effectively.

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:

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.