Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Transformational Arc

I’m always amazed when I hear published authors announce they have never read a single book on the craft of writing. Frankly, it hurts my self-image, because I have to assume they are more intelligent, and that I will have to work harder to reach their skill level.

Maybe you understand where I’m coming from when I confess, I work hard for every tidbit of writing growth I gain. In the corners of my mind, the idea pops up that someday I’ll uncover some great secret of writing, but truthfully, I know there is no secret—only hard work and revision.

In my quest to grow as a writer, I’ve read every craft book I can buy or borrow, listened to hundreds of lectures from ACFW, RWA, and MWA, and I’ve often begged my family to read my stories and give me feedback.

Of late, I have even sought out material from the screenwriting genre. I have no desire to write a screenplay, but already I have gleaned giant nuggets of writing gold from the likes of Michael Hague, Sid Field and Robert McKee (

My latest treasure has been, Inside Story; The Power of the Transformational Arc, by Dara Marks. Inside Story has filled a vacant spot in my writing library, (as well as a blind spot in my writing skills) and although I have read, highlighted and even typed notes from this book, I would easily fork over double the cost for a new copy if this one were lost or stolen. This three-hundred-page work focuses primarily on screenplays, but naturally, it is a great study for writing fiction as well.

Most of us understand our character’s need for a fatal flaw, and that he or she has to change and overcome that flaw or else forfeit reaching the story goal. This principle is common knowledge, but the thing that’s different about Mark’s book is that she guides the writer along a path to help find that character’s flaw and thus the transformational arc.

Reading The Inside Story, the first time was almost like sitting in a counseling session for me, because Marks kept holding up a mirror through which I saw my own flaws and inability to change. That should make sense to the writer because our characters ultimately face the same problems as we do—right?

Inside Story is the best work I’ve read on developing an emotional undercurrent in the story. After all, the transformational arc is probably the most important element in a good story. The character’s struggle to change binds us emotionally to the story, and thus makes us feel satisfied at the end (assuming the character changes). No struggle to change—no emotion in the reader—no sales in the marketplace.

Inside Story is not available from yet, but it is available to order from or from Marks’ personal Website (free shipping) where she also has a nice book trailer on Inside Story.

Maybe you've found a craft book that has been helpful, which you'd like to share with us.

Kenny Noble


  1. I have a bookcase full of craft books, but my most valuable writer's resource doesn't technically fit that description. I can't live without my thesaurus. Not because I want to use big words nobody knows--unless the context makes the meaning clear, that is one of the fastest ways to make me put a book down. But because I'm always hunting for the perfect word--nibble instead of eat, stroll instead of walk, cottage instead of small house, etc. And the thesaurus on Word is pitiful.

    Kathryn Page Camp

  2. May have to check this one out, thanks for the info on it. I'm always on the lookout for good resources to help me become a better writer.

  3. One book that has really made me think about what I'm writing is Word Painting by Rebecca McClanahan. I need to get that out and read it again. Thanks, Kenny.

  4. I vowed not to get any more writing books awhile ago, but Kenny, you've made me WANT this one. . . hmm. One of my recent favorites is James Scott Bell's WRITE GREAT FICTION: REVISION & SELF-EDITING. His examples are super!