As anybody who’s been around me for long knows, I’ve been writing for around 1,000 years. For a long time I heard writers mention the Story Ark, and it was a complete mystery. When my curiosity got the best of me, I searched through the pages of the Writers Bible, New King William of Shakespeare Version. I found the answer in the Book of Sources, Chapter III.
One day an angel came down and found an unruly bunch of scribes dressed in grungy white robes and split-toed sandals seated at hard rocks–not the Café variety–arguing over how a story should be told. To tell the truth, the angel appeared a bit on the shabby side himself. He looked a lot like Gabby Hayes. Anybody remember Gabby?
Anyway, the angel said, “I was sent down here by the Big Editor in the Sky to straighten out you people. You got to get your act together or you’re in for really big trouble. One of these days a guy named Gutenberg will invent a thing called the printing press, and you’re going to be inundated with a flood of stories.”
The scribes and storytellers began to mumble among themselves. You know what it’s like. You’ve seen ‘em do it at the bar during mystery conferences and conventions. Finally, one of them called Leifchilde, who wrote about an outrageous character named Goliath, spoke up.
“That’s scary, Mr. Angel,” he said. “What should we do?”
“You have to build you an Ark.”
“An Ark? Like old Noah and his kids did some time back?”
“Not exactly,” said the angel. “But you get the idea. You have to build the Ark in three parts.”
“We know,” Leifchilde said. “A bow and a middle and a stern.”
The angel reached into a large pocket in his dingy robe and pulled out a flat piece of slate with chiseled scratchings on it. “I brought along three stone tablets to explain it.”
Leifchilde spoke up again. “I thought you were supposed to have two stone tablets.”
“This isn’t like the Ten Commandments, dummy,” the angel said, holding out the stone. “This is Ark One. You have to hook the reader, establish your characters, introduce the crime–we’re talking good ole time mysteries here, guys. You ratchet up the stakes to where the main character knows he has to find a solution.”
He handed the slate to Leifchilde. “Don’t drop it. It’ll break, and it doesn’t come with a replacement guarantee. Those things haven’t been invented yet.”
He pulled out a second slate. “This is Ark Two. You might say it’s amidships.”
“Told you,” said Leifchilde.
The angel ignored him. “In this part you need to make some characters into likely suspects, introduce some red herrings.”
“What’s a herring?” one scribe asked.
“Sorry. Herrings are found in the Atlantic, and it’ll be a long time before Columbus wanders over that way. Let’s just say you make some people look like suspects though they’re really good guys. They take you down false trails. Things really get complicated for the hero, and he’s not sure he wants to solve the case.”
“What’s a case?” another asked.
“Look, I don’t have time for a lesson in semantics here,” the angel said. “Take your piece of rock and figure it out.”
He pulled out the third slate and smiled. “This is the wrap-up, Ark Three. You have to make it move like a rushing river.”
Leifchilde nodded. “Good place for an Ark.”
“The hero looks like he’s doomed, but he finds the strength to go on. Good overpowers evil, and all the loose ends are tied up.”
Leifchilde snickered. “Sort of like that robe you’re wearing. It’s about to come apart.”
The angel frowned and tossed the slate at him. “Okay, wise guy. Fail to follow these and your Ark is sunk.” With that, he disappeared in a poof of smoke.
The scribes began to mumble among themselves again, as writers are wont to do, but they kept the Story Ark tablets safe and handed them down through the ages.
What? You say it’s the Story Arc, with a “c?” You get the Story Bible publisher to change it. I’m not getting into that.