Episode 211: Traditional (Christmas) Story Arcs

On December 24, 2022, Kasie and Rex continued the Story Arc journey with traditional arcs specifically Christmas story examples. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Plot structure: Traditional Arcs & Christmas Stories


  • Plot Structure Traditional Arc 
  • Christmas Stories as examples
  • How to do it
Photo by Bob SpringBob54 on Pexels.com

We have a special guest in the studio with us today, a patron of the show and visitor from the north, Rose Mooney. Welcome, Rose, to the broadcast and thanks for supporting the show.

The last three weeks we’ve been working on plot structure as a way to inflict rules on the chaos of a #NaNoWriMo pantser-type blob of words. We started with the Man in the Hole plot – Kasie finally adopted this one for the vampire novel. Then we took on Feytag’s Pyramid which required two episodes and had to be continuously differentiated from what we’re doing today because today’s topic is the more familiar path.

ProWritingAid’s take on this story arc conversation can be found here. But here are some notable highlights:

  1. Stasis. This is the current situation you find your main character in.
  2. Trigger. This is an inciting event that changes the course for your main character.
  3. Quest. The trigger results in a quest for your main character to achieve a goal.
  4. Surprise. These are complications that prevent your main character from achieving his goal.
  5. Critical Choice. This is when your main character chooses what path to take and confronts the obstacles.
  6. Climax. The critical choice results in the climax, the peak of tension in your story.
  7. Reversal. Your character is changed in some way.
  8. Resolution. The story ends with a satisfactory closure.

So it’s Christmas. Let’s put this in terms of Christmas stories:

  • Charlie Brown Christmas
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  • A Christmas Carol
  • A Christmas Story (Ralphie)
  • Home Alone
  • It’s a Wonderful Life
  • White Christmas
  • Miracle on 34th Street
  • Elf
  • The Polar Express
  • Die Hard?
  • Love Actually
  • The Holiday

A lot of times, the story arc is drawn like this:

In this diagram from getfreewrite.com, the climax is closer to the end of the story than it is to the beginning. 

In this one from study.com, the resolution is on a higher plane than the exposition, demonstrating that the story (and the characters in it) are in a different place once the climax occurs.

All of these diagrams focus on the rising action aimed at the climax and (with varying degrees of symmetry) the falling action taking us to the resolution.

Our family watches Rise of the Guardians on Christmas. It’s not a Christmas movie, exactly, but the main character is Jack Frost and he starts his journey by visiting the North Pole. The movie includes Santa, Tooth Fairy, Sandman, and the Easter Bunny. All of whom are meant to be the guardians of childhood, they keep children feeling wonder, nostalgia, dreams, and hope.

We start the movie in stasis – Jack is having fun with a snow day, causing mischief and getting a kid in a little bit of trouble; it’s established that kids don’t know who he is. Then Pitch Black (also known as the boogeyman and expertly voiced by Jude Law) begins to invade the children’s nightmares. The guardians are alerted the moon has chosen a new guardian, this time it’s Jack Frost, and he’s brought to the North Pole to be inducted. He resists.

I’ll explain the rest on the air, but suffice it to say Jack tries to be a guardian, screws up, and slowly the kids all stop believing in the guardians whose power diminishes as their lights go out. One final light, one final battle, Jack realizes his center is fun and when he makes fun of Pitch, the battle turns their way.

Christmas stories are like other stories in that they rely on strong plot structure to drive them. But they’re unlike other stories because they have:

  1. The built-in expectations of holiday, tradition, family, etc. So getting a new one is really hard to do.
  2. The stain of repeat-performance where we see people attempt to re-do classics (think Bill Murray in Scrooged) with varying levels of success.
  3. The built-in sense of urgency related to Christmas being a one-day-a-year thing.

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you’ll have a safe and happy holiday surrounded by love, family, friends, and joy.

See you next week!

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