A story is an arc



A story is a curious thing.  In the language of authors, it is said to have an arc.  Always good with a double entendre’ if you say the word ark it sounds the same as arc, but means something completely different, and yet perhaps ends up the same.  The arc of a story carries you from the beginning to the end on a ride that has many turns and trials.  But then too, an ark will carry you to a destination on a journey of many turns and trials… so perhaps, they are more alike than at first thought.

I was following this arc of the narrative flowing through my head one day and was surprised at the scenery of the tale.  While the lines of the tale were meandering through my mind in colors, and the noise of the scene played in the background, I was attentive to the notion that it was simply a tale.  Nothing more than a string of ideas and my imagination that made it flow smoothly into the next place of adventure or ease.  As the story goes… so too, my additions.  Curiously, while the arc of the tale told of places and activities, my mind filled in the voids in the story, of the smells and the tone of the voices and the flick of the hair off of the shoulder or the little speck of dirt on the shirt that was distracting… or so it seemed to me…

A bit of background might help here.  When I was young and in a drafting class that was required, I was introduced to the tools of the trade.  You know of the compass and the ruler and the #2 pencil, but the one that struck me as odd was the French Curve.  Actually, it was a set of them, and they were of a variety of shapes and sizes and had bits that were cut out of the insides and curly sections that smoothly glided from one into the next.  There seemed no real rhyme or reason to them, but there they were.  The instructions were simple enough, the dots needed to flow seamlessly from one to another.  Curiously there was one hard rule to the use of them, you must have three dots on the page that fit the shape of the curve.  Now the reality of the expanded set of the things came clear.  The curve needed to be slid around and maneuvered to get three dots to fit the curve of the thing, and that meant you needed lots of options.  Here it is, you need to have a smooth arc.

Large curve or small, sharp turn or sweeping, right or left it mattered not one bit.  Simply adjust the curve to fit the need and the arc would flow.  Like a well written tale of adventure, it would make sense. As the sketch becomes more filled in and the smoothness of the lines are fitted into a tale of connected dots on the path to a destination, you sometimes don’t get the larger picture until you stop and look it over from arms-length…. Distance and time on task to get some perspective allows the filling in of the tone and timbre of the thing.  The imagination has its’ way and now the pencil adds some hue and shade, and perhaps some color, which was missing only moments ago. Perception is individually added.

In the telling of a tale there are three dots that must be connected to continue the story. They can arrive in varied order and can skip a bit in a path of length, but before you continue the three must have been connected.  These dots are as follows: Proximity, Authenticity and Specificity.  Proximity is about the common thing.  I cannot tell about something that you don’t recognize or understand.  I cannot tell a joke about plumbing if you don’t understand plumbing, because the line falls flat.  Authenticity deals as it means, something personally important.  Connected to the proximity, it is now a story you understand but also can relate to personally.  Here is the connection though, if I stop there it is vague, and the line falls flat. To complete the story, it must be specific.  The tale of my woes must be something you can understand, is authentic, and is specific enough to carry through the arc.  You know when you know, and sometimes by your knowing that it is empty or short changed.  Sometimes there is an awkward glance and a screaming silence, and the teller of the story knows you know, but it is too personal to continue, or they know you don’t care, and they stop abruptly.  Everyone sees the train-wreck and cannot right it again… I think you know.  It has all happened to me.  Been not listened to, been the one not listening.  Shared too much, have been told too much and handled it poorly.  Just didn’t know the language of the pain, and stepped heavily on the mishandled dream…

And now here is the ark part of this.  It is time to bring along the passengers to the tale.  This isn’t about Noah and a few family members, it is about you and your friends.  The ones that you work with or that you meet on a plane on your way to someplace else.  It is about the space that you make to let them onto your story ark for the time that you are with them.  You can let them off or they can simply exit on their own.  You can take them to the destination of understanding and companionship, or you can let them off early because they are not careful with your valued items.  This ark then has a log book of passengers, called memories, and it is able to have new pages added as the story continues on the seas of your life.  Picking up passengers and letting them off. Exchanging cargo and making trades of things we value for things we need.  My time for your vulnerability. Your help for my need.  Proximate, authentic, specific.

The French Curve and the arc of a story.  Flexibility, continuity, fluidity.  Personal, specific, true.  The ark of friends that make up the journey of our days.  The ones that come for a moment of time and those we sometimes wish we could toss overboard… they are all there.  What is missing is the arms-length view. Sometimes the closeness keeps us from seeing the finished work.  Sometimes we need to set it down and return later.  When a writer is telling about a thing going on in a book, the phone ringing perhaps, it could be three days later that the author continues writing, but the ringing phone is still ringing.  It didn’t know there was a pause.  Perhaps your arc of a story needs a short break… a side trip in the ark of another, perhaps.  To gain some insight and perspective.  To hear the story with a different arc from the safety of another ark.  One that is personal, and specific and true.

Yours is a story of merit.  Not better than, for that is the wrong measure, but personally yours. Specific to your history, and told as truth, to someone that has climbed onto your ark, for such a time as this… Perhaps you can tell the arc of your own story.  Perhaps for the first time.  Perhaps…

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