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Arcs — bad for electricians, good for stories?

20 November 2010

Today, let’s talk a bit about story arcs, shall we? And not just story arcs that last for one novel or movie, but ones that go on for a bit and form at least a trilogy (or more).

What’s the key to a good, multi-part story arc? TV manages to pull it off rather often, following the same characters and situation over multiple seasons, but a lot of movies trying to do the same thing fall apart (Matrix series, I’m looking in your direction). Some novels do it quite well, and some never quite seem related enough to be an actual arc.

I think it has to do with having at least one very strong character you can hang a multi-part narrative on. The most impressive example of this, to me, is Frank Herbert’s Dune series — it spans thousands and thousands of years, yet thanks to the constant reappearance of Duncan Idaho, the reader has an anchor that ties all of these seemingly disparate stories together. This is why I can never fully embrace the Lynch version of Dune, as it did kind of relegate Idaho, the most important character in the overall arc — to a sort of background player.

So, which books/movies/TV series do arcs well? Which are terrible at it? Does it help if they’re based on books, or does that matter?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. 20 November 2010 0751

    Have you read the Dresden Files? Island in the Stream of Time trilogy, & it’s spinoff Change multi-series arcs? Larry Niven’s Ringworld stories & spinoff arcs? Anne MacCaffrey’s Dragonriders (and weak follow ups by her son)? I could go on & on, but I have to go Thanksgiving shopping.

    • 20 November 2010 0752

      “its”; I hate people who do that (and people who correct themselves).

    • 20 November 2010 0839

      Dresden Files is a pretty good one, and the TV series (which we lamented the loss of a couple of posts ago) was pretty watchable.

      What is it with kids trying to continue their parents’ work? It never quite works. Reference: Brian Herbert’s Dune series.

      Niven’s stuff is quite good — been a fan since I was little.

  2. 20 November 2010 0948

    also Tolkien’s son didn’t do great….or Stoker’s great grandson or whatever.

    Dresden, obviously, is one of the best arcs out there. Clancy does a good job with the Ryan series as well. Or, if you are looking for Multi-Author……..Dragonlance. Anything that has the Heroes I am down for šŸ˜‰

    • 20 November 2010 1005

      It’s official: much love for Dresden. Someone get Jim Butcher on the line. . .

  3. 20 November 2010 0949

    oh and bill, you get a pass. its is a bitch. it doesn’t follow the rules. Now if you’d said dont instead of don’t šŸ˜‰

  4. 20 November 2010 1152

    For me, it’s all about taking as many books/movies/episodes to tell the whole story. It becomes obvious when things are being drawn out just for the sake of continuing.

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