Sunday, May 10, 2020

Apex and Nadir: The Peak and Valley of Story

All fictional stories have a high point and a low point. To make sure that enough happens within the story from beginning to end, writers should assess these points in the story to determine whether they’re different enough from each other.

Whether a writer uses a chapter outline, a three-act outline or just notes, most writers find a way to plot their stories. One reason for writers to do this is to assess the story’s pacing — the speed at which the moves forward — and its progression — the degree to which the plot unfolds along the way. But it’s also important to compare the story’s apex and nadir.

Apex, in this context, could be the story’s climax. But a more interesting and deeper way to consider the apex is to find the story’s most complex and interesting point. That means the nadir is the story’s lowest point — the point at which all seems or is lost.

Here is a list of what to consider when assessing whether there is enough differentiation between and development of these two points.

For the apex:
  • Describe what is happening in the story at its most complex and interesting point.
  • List the major theme and subtheme present at this moment.
  • Briefly outline how the reader might expect the story to unfold afterward.
  • Also briefly outline how the story does unfold.
For the nadir:
  • Describe what is happening at the story’s darkest moment.
  • Consider whether the main theme is adequately addressed.
  • Briefly outline how the reader might expect the story to unfold afterward.
  • Also briefly outline how the story does unfold.
Once you’ve followed these steps, compare the apex and nadir to see whether there is sufficient differentiation between the two points. There should be enough emotional and actual distance between the highest point in the story and its lowest point to make the story a real journey, not a just plot that makes readers feel they’re running in place. Then look over the story’s individual plot points to see if there are other possible outcomes at any or all of these points. And make sure to include the setting in your consideration.

Since this approach also works for characters, the writer can follow the same approach for the primary and key secondary roles to see if there is enough development in each of the characters. Writing students can use this approach for literary analysis and criticism to understand how writers bring stories and characters from the start of a work to its completion.

What are the highs and lows of your story?

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