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What is a Story Arc in Copywriting?

When you’re creating content for online marketing, you’ll find that you frequently run into the problem of deciding what is and isn’t important for your reader to know. One of the best tools you can have in your copywriting tool belt is a structure known as a story arc. Here’s a brief introduction to this copywriting structure and why you should know about it.

The Purpose Of A Story Arc

As the name suggests, the story arc is a structure that can be found in almost every good narrative work, both fictional and non-fictional. The purpose of a story arc is to make the reader understand the story or tell the story in a way that is gripping and keeps them invested in the narrative. Below are the some of the most common uses for the story arc in copywriting.

Showing Versus Telling

An important distinction to make is between showing and telling. If we look at the traditional linear narrative in film, showing occurs when the camera depicts activities and events that take place in the story world. Telling, on the other hand, is when the author actually presents dialogue and information about the story’s characters and events. Below are some examples where showing and telling are employed in a complimentary manner.

  • The Matrix Revolutions: In this case, we see events unfold on screen as the story is being told to us.
  • Memento: Here, we see the story world through Leonard’s eyes as he narrates his experience of remembering former events.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: The camera shows us events as they happen, but the text also provides us with information about what is going on.

Telling a story in a way that is fluid and engaging can be difficult, which is why there is often a distinction between the two. The best way to avoid disjointed narratives and infodumps is by clearly establishing the type of narrative you are using before you start writing. Once you have that down, it will be much easier to write the story in a way that keeps the reader engaged.

Character Development

The first step in building an engaging story is to develop your characters. A good story needs three elements:

  • An interesting main character – For a story to be considered engaging, the main character must be relatable, understandable, and interesting. The reader needs to be able to identify with the character, so that what they are going through is perceived as happening to them as well. This makes the reader more emotionally involved in the narrative.
  • A relatable antagonist – It is essential that the antagonist be relatable too, otherwise, what is the point of having an antagonist in the first place? The reader needs to be able to identify with the antagonist, so that they see what is happening from their point of view as well. Make sure that both the protagonist and the antagonist are well-defined and have clearly presented motivations. It is also important that these motivations make sense in the context of the story. The antagonist should be a personification of the forces that are working against the protagonist (hence the term anti-hero).
  • A clear protagonist-antagonist relationship – This is where the story arcs enters the picture. The antagonist should be working towards defeating or overcoming the protagonist. This dynamic can be either adversarial (anti-hero defeats villain) or it can be a struggle for supremacy (commonly found in historical fiction and thrillers).

Once you have these three elements in place, you can start to craft a coherent narrative. There are many different ways in which you can accomplish this, but the key is by making sure that each individual element (i.e. scene, vignette, or chapter) follows a clear and consistent arc.


An arc will typically begin with an inciting incident. This is something that happens or is said (by a character, event, or circumstance) that sets off a chain of events that results in a conflict. This conflict is then followed by a series of events (some of which are funny, tragic, or shocking) that are driven by this initial conflict. After these initial conflicts, there is a resolution (usually satisfying or at least intriguing) and the story arc comes to an end.

You can use this structure in your copywriting too. One of the best examples of this occurs in a book called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck – A how-to guide for aspiring young professionals. The book’s central character, Jesse, begins his journey towards self-actualization by avoiding casual sex, rejecting money, and not caring about his looks. He gradually comes to terms with his identity as a gay man through a series of confrontations and challenges that he faces in his 20s. From the very beginning, the inciting incident that sets off this journey is made clear.

In this example, you can see that the first section of the book (up until Chapter 2) is primarily driven by action-reaction. After Jesse’s first two chapters, the arc starts to take a slightly different turn and becomes more character-driven. The next section of the book (Chapters 3–6) focuses on Jesse’s struggle to accept his new identity, which, in turn, leads him to confront internal prejudices and begin changing the way he will interact with the world in the future.

The way you use this structure in your writing will depend on your individual story and what you are trying to accomplish. However, as a general rule, it is a very good idea to begin with a situation that you feel is unjust (i.e. a problem) and then show how your character interacts with this issue. This will make your writing much more interesting and, in many cases, even cathartic. Just remember: As the saying goes, “write what you know.” Familiarity with your own experience will always be an advantage in your quest for becoming a better writer.