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Just throwing out ideas today.

Sometimes it is important to maintain a character or narrative over multiple stories. The tool for that is story arcs. Story arcs are most common in TV and graphic novels, however, with the easy linking of stories, there is an opportunity to expand the use of arcs.

quick review: A story arc allows you to move one narrative thread through another narrative thread, or is simply an evolving narrative, and is most often used for character development. It is especially common in episodic storytelling, where character story arcs spread over multiple episodes of a story. Sometimes plot-lines outside of characters are also spread out over more than one episode.

Particularly plot-focused episodic narratives may use overlapping arcs, allowing an episode to both complete and start a new primary arc.

Image via Kalkion.

I’m curious if the same techniques behind story arcs in episodic content can be applied to other media.


The first possibility is in journalism. Journalists often write each article without thinking if it will need a follow-up. As a result stories tend to stand alone, making it difficult for news websites to engage the participant beyond the landing story. In order to get more impressions, they instead spread the story out over multiple pages. This is one of the reasons that news websites have such high bounce rates.

But news organizations, especially local organizations which often follow a story topic over significant periods of time, have a real opportunity to establish arcs over multiple stories, allowing readers to get a better sense of the whole of the story and the people involved. This can drill down further than topics and get people more engaged. If there is something to really connect readers to other content, than it can build traffic and keep users on the site.

The New York Times sometimes plays with interactive features that build on the concept of an arc through a progressing story. I believe that The Washington Post used to  have a related topics frequency graph of some sort that fed on keywords, but they don’t anymore.

Can you think of any ways that news organizations can innovate to make story arcs a part of building coverage?


I was thinking about the value of leaving hints and bits of story in each transmedia element. This is sort of an ARG concept. Transmedia concepts often reveal depth to a story through content, but I’m thinking more along the lines of hiding points on a story arc throughout different media.

The issue is that it could be revealed in different order each time. Perhaps it could build on a narrative where order is not as important. It might work well with time travel.


The most obvious way is to include elements of previous UI stages in other user interface stages, providing a connection. This isn’t particularly uncommon, but I’m thinking about how the technique can be in narrative terms. Really we are establishing a simple type of story about progression from one level of use to the next.

Is it possible to expand beyond that? Hyperlinks are, I suppose, another way to do it.

What about implementing overlapping arcs in each UI level? Include part of the last UI in the current stage. I’ve seen this done before and it is usually pretty cool. I think that could be especially useful with browser-based interactive fiction.


Establishing a story arc over the course of a commercial album is not entirely unheard of but it is pretty rare. When it is done, it can be fairly successful. I’d like to see it more often. Beyond that, what would be really interesting is to treat each song as an episode, with its own story and arcs connecting them together.

Can you think of any other interesting ways to use story arcs?

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  1. […] and diagrams.  (these two pictures are from two great writing websites you can link to here, and here.) Basically they usually involve a straight line representing your novel with lots of arcs and […]

  2. […] Does your story hang together tightly? Is your story arc smooth? Here is a graph to show story arcs for TV and graphic fiction. Does your main character or characters move through different stages […]