What Shape Is That Story?

WRITERS' RUMPUS

By Joyce Audy Zarins

While reading John Green’s Looking for Alaska recently, I was surprised by the shape of the story. It reminded me of other authors who have played with the structure of their narratives. I’ll get to Looking for Alaska in a minute, but first, what is a story’s “shape”?

The most common depiction of the shape of a picture book plot, let’s sayWhere the Wild Things Are, looks something like this:

Picture book arc - home, adventure / problem solution, home Picture book arc – home, adventure / problem solution, home

The beginning – Max being naughty in his wolf suit – can be thought of as “home.” Then the middle of the story is where the rumpus, adventure, quest, or struggle to resolve the problem happens. At the end of the story Max returns “home” where his dinner is waiting, still hot. Since he has grown emotionally in the course of the story, the…

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