Constant Meaning

I have written from time to time in this space about the three narrative arcs present in nearly every story. There is the physical arc, which is every single thing that is said and done in a story; there are the emotional arcs, which trace the changes within your characters as they move, or don’t move, from suffering to relief, from despair to contentment; and then there is the intentional arc, which is the reason is the story is being written. Of all the arcs, the last, which is by far the most important, is also the hardest to define. All your story’s value grows from it, and yet unlike the physical arc, with its isolated events and discrete lines of dialogue, and the emotional arc with its milestones of change, the intentional arc is present continuously and equally throughout the entirety of the story.

Moreover, if your story is about the value of romantic love, say, you would not have written the story if you could have simply said, “Romantic love is valuable.” No, you needed the story to say that, which, if it is successful, it does, and yet does so in the way only that story could. The story needs the story to express what the story has to express, and so the story means what the story is.

Which is why writers talking about writing sometimes sound like holy men talking about God. It is unintentional, I assure you, but such is the plight of those wishing to express the source of meaning. And yet meaning is to a story, is to a life, as gravity is to physics: a force everywhere always, yet never seen or held, never known except by our constant and inescapable proximity to it.

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