Writing for Game Design, Comics and Novels 101 – Story Arcs

Welcome to Amazing Gaming Productions. My name is Mark.

I am the creator of Tales from Trinity City, a dark sci-fi tabletop RPG, where you create a superhero who explores and protects the last unoccupied human city; or a villain causing mischief.

Today’s blog is all about Story Arcs.

You may have wondered why I didn’t talk about villains in the last blog on character arcs. The answer is simple – because your antagonists create the story arc. The protagonist has to face them and restore sanity to themselves or their world!

The antagonistic force defines the main character’s goals – Luke wanted to become a pilot to defeat the Empire. Hades was following its programming to destroy all life on Earth and corrupted Gaia, leading to the events of HZD. Micah played the Van Der Linde Gang against the O’Driscols to get the stash.

So let us talk about Story arcs!

I always recommend finding a good character interview sheet – I follow one with over 100 questions. I can learn everything about every important character in my story. The questionnaire helps me define their past and understand their motivations.

In my work, I often tell a story about Zuo. He was a lieutenant for the final part of the campaign. After I interviewed him, I realized what he wanted, and it took the story on a very different path.

The antagonists’ goals should be related to the theme of your story. In the “Stealing is bad” themed story, maybe the villain is a dirty cop chasing after the MC who stole the heirloom from a billionaire. The cop is out to kill him – and is little more than an assassin hiding behind a badge.

But why is the cop dirty?

Ask them the same questions you would ask any character for a positive or negative character arc.

  1. What is the lie the character believes?
  2. What irrational desires do their lies give birth to?
  3. What wound does the character have?
  4. What is the need for this character?
  5. How will this need change his life?

Once you understand the motivations of the antagonistic force, you can start plotting out the story. Stories will always be a tug of war between the protagonist and the antagonist.

The 9(or sometimes 10) point story structure. Each part has a certain flavour to it, starting from a life in chaos to a victorious life.

The antagonist will be present but doesn’t recognize the hero until their first victory. Luke was unknown until he destroyed the Death Star, then Vader went after him.

The first act is about the MC having indecision – do they want to go on a quest that changes their life or not? The Inciting Incident and First Plot points push them out of their “normal world” into the “adventure world”. Aloy refuses to shun Rost, Luke hesitates when Ben Kenobi asks him to leave Tatooine, and Geralt is annoyed Jaskier is chasing after him!

The protagonist may oppose the antagonistic force, but they hesitate until they are forced out of their normal worlds into the adventure world. The uncaring Geralt warms up to Jaskier, Luke refuses to help Ben Kenobi, until he loses his Aunt and Uncle, Arthur Morgan refuses to work with the Pinkertons and helps move the camp to a safer place.

The first thing you need to do in a story establishes the character and their home. The opening scene shows the “normal world” of the MC, revealing their character to the audience. Commander Shepard walking along the Normandy while people are paying them respect is a great way to show Shepard’s “normal world” and the kind of person Shepard is.

Next, you have an inciting incident – In the 2nd episode of the Witcher Series, Geralt meets Jaskier, whom he hates. But Jaskier keeps on following anyways, to his annoyance. Luke finds R2D2, meets Ben Kenobi, sees the message, but refuses to leave his Aunt and Uncle behind. Aloy is part of the Tribe, but she is adamant she will visit Rost, even to his objections.

The first plot point is a mini moment of truth that pushes the MC out of their “normal worlds”. Geralt accepts Jaskier’s help because he’s getting paid coin for killing monsters; he’s not a complete waste of time or effort. Luke finds out his Uncle and Aunt are dead, so he starts his quest to defeat the Empire. Or Aloy gets to the “All Mother” only to learn the registry is “corrupted”.

Now the Protagonist is committed to fighting the antagonistic force.

The Second Act is all about the conflict between the MC and the Antagonistic force. While the Antagonist may know about the protagonist at the beginning; after all, Herod wanted Jesus dead after he was born, this is the exception, not the rule. In most stories, the Antagonist only finds out about the MC after they achieve a major victory.

After the first plot point, the MC sees the benefit of leaving their “normal worlds” to fight the antagonistic force. Aloy leaves the sacred lands to learn about her parents and discover the corruption affecting the “All Mother”. Luke accepts his quest after his aunt and uncle die and learns about the Force with Ben Kenobi. Geralt lets Jaskier keep following him around.

While they may not show up during act 1, the antagonistic force usually gets involved before or after the 1st plot point. The antagonistic force will take action because something is threatening their goals.

After this, the protagonist and antagonist will be in the tug of war that is the 2nd act. The pinch points and midpoint help keep the tension in the story. Pinch points show the power of the antagonistic force. The midpoint is the moment of truth for the protagonist.

Great first pinch points would be for Horizon Zero Dawn – Hades finding out about Aloy is still alive after Aloy saves Olin. It wants her dead and ordered the ambush during the proving, the end of act 1. Another great first pinch point is Red Dead Redemption 2. The O’Driscols almost killed Arthur after finding him while he was Dutch’s lookout during a negotiation.

The Mid Point is when the Antagonistic Force shows itself, and a moment of great truth happens. Like when Keiran’s body was posed on a horse with his decapitated body between his hands before the O’Driscols started to shoot. They were tired of Dutch and his Gang getting in their way – so was Micah – if he could get the massive shoot out and everyone kills each other, he can get the stash!

The 2nd Pinch point is all about the MC dealing with the Antagonistic force – like when Aloy has to go into Hades’ domain to take down its network so she can find out what secrets Sundown has in store for her!

The Protagonist and their allies overcome the antagonistic force, giving birth to a new hope.

The third plot point starts with the antagonist enacting their final plan to defeat the protagonist after the setback of the 2nd plot point. The antagonist brings the protagonist to their knees during the dark moment of their soul. Everything seems lost. Helis captures Aloy at Sundown and reveals Hades plan to punish the Nora. Luke feels the mistake he made in coming to Endore and knows he has to leave the other rebels behind, and Geralt goes back to protect Ciri and is imprisoned by her grand father.

After the Protagonist escapes, they experience renewed purpose. They must do everything they can because everything they care about is about to be destroyed. They are “reborn”, a new version of themselves who is much wiser than when they started. Geralt escapes from captivity and goes to rescue Ciri, Luke goes to his father to be taken before the emperor.

After this rebirth, the protagonist may be tempted. Arthur Morgan must choose between going after the stash or protecting John Marsden. John Marsden can kill the snitch or refuse to do it. Luke must face his father and the manipulative tongue of Darth Sidious. These are tough choices.

The great temptation of Arthur Morgan!

In the end, the MC will face the Antagonist/Antagonistic Force. Luke fights Vader, John Marsden kills Micah after Micah pulls the gun first, and Aloy fights and defeats Hades.

After the confrontation, the next scene creates an impression of what happens after this story. Aloy finds Lizabet Sobeck’s body surrounded by flowers planted by the AI intelligence responsible for plant growth. Geralt hugs Ciri, showing he accepts his destiny. Luke sees the force ghosts of the Jedi of the past. Arthur Morgan sees his spirit animal as he dies. John Marsden gets married and celebrates with his friends!

Just remember, it was always Micah pushing the story, and even John Marsden has to deal with him in the end. Hades is even the reason Aloy is alive, and who is Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader?

Knowing your antagonist means you know your story, so take time out and get to them him/her/them.

Once you know what the antagonist wants, their desires push the story and fit the theme.

Skimping on learning about your antagonist(s) will only weaken your story.

The next part of the series is about the differences between the different character arcs.

Thanks for taking your time with my blog, if you like it follow me on WordPress and Twitter.

Feel free to bop the star, and share it on your blog and other social media platforms.

Have a great day guys!

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