Story arc

Last updated

A story arc (also narrative arc) is an extended or continuing storyline in episodic storytelling media such as television, comic books, comic strips, boardgames, video games, and films with each episode following a dramatic arc. [1] On a television program, for example, the story would unfold over many episodes. In television, the use of the story arc is common in sitcoms, and even more so in soap operas. In a traditional Hollywood film, the story arc usually follows a three-act format. Webcomics are more likely to use story arcs than newspaper comics, as most web comics have readable archives online that a newcomer to the strip can read in order to understand what is going on. Although story arcs have existed for decades, the term "story arc" was coined in 1988 in relation to the television series Wiseguy , and was quickly adapted for other uses.

Contents

Many American comic book series are now written in four or six-issue arcs, within a continuing series. Short story arcs are easier to package as trade paperbacks for resale, and more accessible to the casual reader than the never-ending continuity that once characterised US comics. A corollary to the absence of continuity, however, is that, as exemplified in 1950s DC Superman comics, no permanent change to characters or situations occurs, meaning no growth can take place; thus storylines repeat over time in an endless loop.

Dramatic structure and purpose

The purpose of a story arc is to move a character or a situation from one state to another; in other words, to effect change. This change or transformation often takes the form of either a tragic fall from grace or a reversal of that pattern. One common form in which this reversal is found is a character going from a situation of weakness to one of strength. For example, a poor woman goes on adventures and in the end makes a fortune for herself, or a lonely man falls in love and marries.

Another form of storytelling that offers a change or transformation of character is that of "hero's journey," as laid out in Joseph Campbell's theory of the monomyth in his work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces . Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers details the same theory specifically for western storytelling.

Story arcs in contemporary drama often follow the pattern of bringing a character to a low point, removing the structures the character depends upon, and then forcing the character to find new strength without those structures. In a story arc, the character undergoes substantial growth or change, which culminates in the denouement in the last third or quarter of a story.

In television and radio

Story arcs on television (and also on radio) have existed for decades (one notable (albeit, unusual) example, from the so-called "Golden Age of Radio", being the 1946 NBC Radio Summer-run docudrama serial, The Fifth Horseman, [2] which (in part) featured a four-episode arc regarding a hypothetical chain of events (spanning nearly two full "future" decades) surrounding a fictitious nuclear holocaust), and are common in many countries where multi-episode storylines are the norm (an example being the UK's Doctor Who ), as well as most anime series.

Many arc-based series in past decades, such as V , were often short-lived and found it difficult to attract new viewers; they also rarely appear in traditional syndication (one notable example being the science fiction "novel for television" Babylon 5 ). However, the rise of DVD retail and DVR of television series has worked in arc-based productions' favor as the standard season collection format allows the viewer to have easy access to the relevant episodes. One area of television where story arcs have always thrived, however, is in the realm of the soap opera, and often episodic series have been derisively referred to as "soap operas" when they have adopted story arcs.

Arc-based series draw and reward dedicated viewers, and fans of a particular show follow and discuss different story arcs independently from particular episodes. Story arcs are sometimes split into subarcs, if deemed significant by fans, making it easy to refer to certain episodes if their production order titles are unknown. Episodes not relevant to story arcs (such as "monsters of the week") are sometimes dismissed as filler by fans, but might be referred to as self-contained or stand-alone episodes by producers.

Usage in manga and anime

Manga and anime are usually good examples of arc-based stories, to the point that most series shorter than twenty-six chapters are a single arc spanning all the chapters. This makes syndication difficult, as episodes watched in isolation often confuse viewers unless watched in conjunction with the series as a whole. Series of thirty chapters or longer usually have multiple arcs.

Neon Genesis Evangelion , for example, is a single story arc spanning twenty-six episodes. Other longer anime have multiple story arcs, such as Bleach , Higurashi no Naku Koro ni , One Piece , Naruto , Yu-Gi-Oh! and Fairy Tail . The anime Dragon Ball Z adapts four different story arcs from the Dragon Ball manga, each with its own ultimate antagonist, along with original story arcs created for the TV series.

See also

Related Research Articles

Retroactive continuity Alteration of previously established facts in the continuity of a fictional work

Retroactive continuity, or retcon for short, is a literary device in which established diegetic facts in the plot of a fictional work are adjusted, ignored, or contradicted by a subsequently published work which breaks continuity with the former.

A soap opera is a radio or television serial dealing especially with domestic situations and frequently characterized by melodrama, ensemble casts, and sentimentality. The term "soap opera" originated from radio dramas originally being sponsored by soap manufacturers.

Cliffhanger

A cliffhanger or cliffhanger ending is a plot device in fiction which features a main character in a precarious or difficult dilemma or confronted with a shocking revelation at the end of an episode of serialized fiction. A cliffhanger is hoped to incentivize the audience to return to see how the characters resolve the dilemma.

The reset button technique is a plot device that interrupts continuity in works of fiction. Simply put, use of a reset button device returns all characters and situations to the status quo they held before a major change of some sort was introduced. Typically it occurs either in the middle of a program and negates a portion of it, or it occurs at the beginning, or very end, of a program to negate all that came before it. Often used in science fiction television series, animated series, soap operas, and comic books, the device allows elaborate and dramatic changes to characters and the fictional universe that might otherwise invalidate the premise of the show with respect to future episodes' or issues' continuity. Writers may, for example, use the technique to allow the audience to experience the death of the lead character, which traditionally would not be possible without effectively ending the work.

<i>Exosquad</i> Television series

Exosquad is an American South Korean animated television series created by Universal Cartoon Studios for MCA TV's Universal Family Network syndicated programming block as a response to Japanese anime. The show is set in the beginning of the 22nd century and covers the interplanetary war between humanity and Neosapiens, a fictional race artificially created as workers/slaves for the Terrans. The narrative generally follows Able Squad, an elite Terran unit of mecha pilots, on their missions all over the Solar System, although other storylines are also abundant. The series ran for two complete seasons in syndication from 1993 to 1994, and was cancelled after one third-season episode had been produced. Reruns later aired on USA Network.

<i>Port Charles</i>

Port Charles is an American television soap opera that aired on ABC from June 1, 1997 to October 3, 2003. It was a spin-off of the serial General Hospital, which has been running since 1963 and takes place in the fictional city of Port Charles, New York. The new show features longtime General Hospital characters Lucy Coe, Kevin Collins, Scott Baldwin, and Karen Wexler, along with several new characters, most of whom were interns in a competitive medical school program. In its later years, the program shifted more towards supernatural themes and stories, with a reduced emphasis on the original hospital setting.

A recap sequence is a narrative device used by many television series to bring the viewer up to date with the current events of the stories' plot. It is usually a short montage of important scenes cut directly from previous episodes, usually short bursts of dialogue, which serve to lay the background for the following episode.

Nonlinear narrative, disjointed narrative or disrupted narrative is a narrative technique, sometimes used in literature, film, hypertext websites and other narratives, where events are portrayed, for example, out of chronological order or in other ways where the narrative does not follow the direct causality pattern of the events featured, such as parallel distinctive plot lines, dream immersions or narrating another story inside the main plot-line. Most of the time, it is used to mimic the structure and recall of a character, but has been used for other reasons as well.

Decompression (comics)

In comics, decompression is a stylistic storytelling choice characterized by a strong emphasis on visuals or character interaction, which, in turn, usually leads to slower-moving plots.

An episodic video game is a video game of a shorter length that is commercially released as an installment to a continuous and larger series. Episodic games differ from conventional video games in that they often contain less content but are developed on a more frequent basis.

Ageless is an adjective describing a person or thing whose age cannot be defined, is non-existent, or appears not to change. It can also describe something that has always existed without a precise beginning or an end.

Vincent Clarkson

Vincent Clarkson, also known by the alter ego Valerie Davis, is a fictional character from the American soap opera Passions. Created by the soap's founder and head writer James E. Reilly, Vincent was portrayed by Phillip Jeanmarie from 2006–2008. Valerie was played by Daphnée Duplaix from 2004–2008, and temporarily by Siena Goines in 2007. Jeanmarie originally auditioned for the role of a peeping tom before the role was expanded as the show progressed.

Quality television is a term used by television scholars, television critics, and broadcasting advocacy groups to describe a genre or style of television programming that they argue is of higher quality due to its subject matter, style, or content. For several decades after World War II, television that was deemed to be "quality television" was mostly associated with government-funded public television networks; however, with the development of cable TV network specialty channels in the 1980s and 1990s, US cable channels such as HBO made a number of television shows that some television critics argued were "quality television", such as The Sopranos.

Transmedia storytelling is the technique of telling a single story or story experience across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies.

In television programming, limited-run series is a program with an end date and limit to the number of episodes each stated by release of the first episode. For instance, The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' definition specifies a "program with two (2) or more episodes with a total running time of at least 150 program minutes[,] that tells a complete, non-recurring story, and does not have an on-going storyline and/or main characters in subsequent seasons." Limited-run series are represented in the form of telenovelas in Latin America, and serials in the United Kingdom.

In television and radio programming, a serial is a show that has a continuing plot that unfolds in a sequential episode-by-episode fashion. Serials typically follow main story arcs that span entire television seasons or even the complete run of the series, and sometimes spinoffs, which distinguishes them from episodic television that relies on more stand-alone episodes. Worldwide, the soap opera is the most prominent form of serial dramatic programming. In the UK the serial began as a direct adaptations of well known literary works, usually consisting of a small number of episodes.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to fiction:

A procedural or procedural drama is a cross-genre type of literature, film, or television program involving a sequence of technical detail. A documentary film may also be written in a procedural style to heighten narrative interest.

A motion comic is a form of animation combining elements of print comic books and animation. Individual panels are expanded into a full shot while sound effects, voice acting, and animation are added to the original artwork. Text boxes, speech bubbles and the onomatopoeia are typically removed to feature more of the original artwork being animated. Motion comics are often released as short serials covering a story arc of a long running series or animating a single release of a graphic novel. Single release issues of a story arc are converted into ten- to twenty-minute-long episodes depending on content.

Episodic storytelling is a genre of narrative that is divided into a fixed set of episodes. Multiple episodes are usually grouped together into a series through a unifying story arc, with the option to view immediately. Episodes may not always contain the same characters, but each episode draws from a broader group of characters, or cast, all of whom exist in the same story world. Its one of the most common form of storytelling in tv film.

References

  1. "Narrative Arc – What is Narrative Arc in Literature?". ThoughtCo.
  2. "The Fifth Horseman" via Internet Archive.