Simple Narrative Arcs, 1

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Narrative Arc in Less Than 100 Words: Example 1

Very simple picture books still have a narrative arc, even though the word count is extremely small. Here’s a look at a narrative arc in 80 words (with the help of some illustrations), as it appears in My Friend, Rabbit, by Eric Rohmann, winner of the 2003 Caldecott Award for Best Illustrations in a children’s book for the year.

Narrative Arc in 32 pages, 80 words

Here’s a great example of a narrative arc in only 80 words.

rabbit1st person POV from Mouse’s POV, talking about his friend
p 1. Title page
2–3 Introduce Mouse and Rabbit
4-5 Problem establish: Rabbit always gets into trouble
6-7 Rabbit has confidence he can get out of trouble (Characterization_
8-9 Rabbit’s idea begins to unfold (pulling a large beast onto page)
10-11 Elephant is in place
12-13 Rhino pushed forward
14-15 We now see Rhino on Top of Elephant, while Rabbit brings in Hippo.
(start to understand that he’s stacking animals to reach the plane stuck in a tree)
16-17 More animals to stack up, each smaller than the previous
18-19 The stack has failed. But Rabbit is still confident and has a final idea
20-21 Rabbit gets Mouse involved in the idea.
It succeeds – mouse reaches the plane! But there’s also disaster . . .
22-23 . . . and the disaster is going to be bad because everyone is running out of the way. . .
24-25 . . . as animals –big and small–fall everywhere.
26-27 Animals are all mad at Rabbit
28-29 Mouse swoops in with the plane to rescue Rabbit (Rabbit’s friendship–because he means well–endears him to Mouse.)
30-31 Rabbit accidently covers Mouse’s eyes, so he can’t see to fly. . .
32 And they are stuck in the tree again, but this time, they are in the plane and Rabbit confidently says, I have an idea.

Narrative Arc analyzed

Word count: 80 (plus 10 words of dialogue on p. 30-31)
Characteristics of Rabbit: Means well, Trouble follows him, Supremely confident, an adventurer.
Characteristics of Mouse: Loyal to friend, an adventurer.

p. 1-3 Characters introduced
p. 4-5 Problem established
p. 6-19 Attempt to solve problem
p. 20-21 Attempt to solve problem fails, but there’s one last heroic effort. Success. Followed immediately by Disaster.
p. 21-28 Disaster threatens to overwhelm Rabbit
p. 28-29 Mouse saves his friend, Rabbit
p. 30-32 Circular ending: similar problem established again.

Narrative Arc Written as a Synopsis

I realized that this story is written in first person POV from the Mouse’s POV. That makes him the main character! I thought at first that Rabbit was the main character. But the POV, combined with the dramatic rescue by Mouse, makes this Mouse’s story. So, from the POV of Mouse, here’s the narrative arc written as a synopsis. (Of course, there are several ways to look at this, but this version makes sense to me.)

This is a story about Mouse, who more than anything wants to remain loyal to his friend, Rabbit, even though Rabbit gets in trouble. When Rabbit gets Mouse’s plane stuck in a tree (first test of loyalty) Rabbit tries to get it out by building a tower of animals. Mouse, (2nd test of loyalty) joins in by being the final link in the tower and finally he reaches his plane. However, the animal tower falls and Rabbit is in trouble, so Mouse (3rd and final test of loyalty and resolution) flies down to rescue him. But in the rescue, they wind up back in the tree (loyalty tests begin again).

See another example tomorrow of a simple narrative arc, as we look at My Splendid Friend, Indeed, by Suzanne Bloom.

3 Comments
  • Susi Gregg Fowler
    November 13, 2009

    I am struck by the clarity of your analysis, darcy. i tend to be fuzzier, and i appreciate the nudge toward a sharper focus. i think it’s helping me write better, to give better feedback to others and to more skillfully assess and revise my own work. thanks. i

  • sruble
    November 24, 2009

    This is great! Thanks so much for analyzing the narrative arc of this book! I’ll have to remember this for later.

  • Carol Grannick
    November 24, 2009

    Darcy –
    I came to this post a little late, but it’s fabulous. Thanks so much for the in-depth analysis.