The Arc is a Covenant – A Great Story is Driven by Great Characters

The Arc is a Covenant – A Great Story is Driven by Great Characters

by Rob Stone

 

In Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring we at first find a happy and content Frodo living in The Shire. A simple hobbit living a simple life. In storytelling we call this his Initial Condition.

 

As events begin to unfold; his uncle Bilbo leaves him a ring, this is a point within our Arc that we call “the knot” which is the thing that is wrong with our character, in this case he is given a powerful ring that puts him and everyone he knows and loves in danger. We then learn that Black Riders are on their way to retrieve The One Ring, and Frodo is given the task by Gandalf to take the ring and leave The Shire, our character is faced with the next step in our Arc, in storytelling we call this the Inciting Event.

 

CLOSE ON: THE RING IN FRODO’S HAND…

                   GANDALF
         Understand, Frodo…I would use this Ring
         from a desire to do good…but through
         me, it would wield a power too great and
         terrible to imagine.

                   FRODO
         But it cannot stay in the Shire!

                   GANDALF
         No, no it can’t.

CLOSE ON: THE RING IN FRODO’S CLENCHED HAND.

                   FRODO
         What must I do?

                                                      CUT TO:

INT. FRODO’S BEDROOM — NIGHT

ANGLE ON: FRODO

throwing clothes into a knapsack…Gandalf watches him,
making plans…

                   GANDALF
         You must leave, and leave quickly. Get
         out of the Shire.

                    FRODO
         Where?   Where shall I go?

                   GANDALF
         Make for the village of Bree.

 

Our character Frodo, along with a cast of supporting characters are suddenly thrust into a situation that removes them from their Initial Condition. This Inciting Event is merely the doorway to what will encompass the majority of our Arc, in storytelling we call this next step Escalation.

 

Escalation will take our character(s) through trials, challenges, danger, discovery; all leading toward the next step in our Arc, The Moment of Truth. This is where and when our character must do the thing that must be done. If they do it, this happens. If they don’t do it, something entirely different happens. Regardless of their choice, we arrive at the last step in our Arc, The Final State.

 

Like the Initial Condition, The Final State is the world the character now lives in. Is it as safe or safer than it was in the Initial Condition? It really depends on the story. But regardless of that, the character and the world he/she lives in is changed.

 

The five steps are simply the milestones between two points, The Knot and the Moment of Truth, and are merely the preparation, progress, and aftermath of our character’s journey.

 

The Arc is essential to a great story AND essential to a great character. As a gamemaster, your story should follow this Arc. Your player characters need to experience it for your story to be great. As a player you can use the Arc in writing the background for your character. The Arc is a Covenant between creator (GM or player) and the story. If the covenant is broken, the character and the story are broken.