I'm still convinced it is the sense of repetition that sensitizes us to arcs when we read - however, repetition should not be defined in its most simplistic sense. We see something occur. Then we recognize it the second time it occurs, but something gets added. This sets up an expectation for further progress, or progress of a particular type, going forward. The next time we see the repeated element, the development that happened between point 1 and point 2 may be turned in a different direction. What takes a simple repetition and turns it into an intuitively recognizable arc is this development over the course of the story - but in terms of the writing, it's not a smooth progression. There are discrete events that contribute to it.
For the purposes of being specific, I thought I'd lay out a few of the arcs that I'm putting into my current novel. There are lots of arcs in this one, and they do very different things - and many of the smaller arcs also participate in larger arcs.
Arc 1 repeating element: Stranger (I mentioned this arc in my last arc post)
- Character 1 glimpses a stranger at a concert
- Character 1 sees a stranger at a second concert, approaches and speaks briefly to him
- Character 1 goes to a private concert and is vaguely surprised when he doesn't see the stranger
- Character 1 meets the soloist from the private concert and is personally introduced to the stranger
Arc 2 repeating element: Della
- Character 1 goes to a concert, is caught in a riot and ends up having to stick with a stranger for his own protection. He never learns her name.
- Character 1 goes to a second concert and Della is at this one as well. He sees her at intermission and offers her servant a drink but doesn't speak to her.
- Character 1 sees Della again after the second concert finishes; this time she speaks to him. Someone else sees him speaking with her.
- Character 1 is coerced into going to an event by the person who saw him speaking with Della (another arc branches off here)
- Character 1 is told not to see Della again
- Character 1 gets an opportunity to see Della's servant again and turns it into an opportunity to see her in spite of this advice. Della implies she may invite him to her home.
Arc 3 repeating element: Kinders Fever
- Character 1 sees the Speaker of the Cabinet drop dead of Kinders Fever
- Character 2 hears that all people present at the event where the death occurred are having their health checked; also an investigation has begun into the source of infection
- Character 1 learns that the source of the fever has been localized and that news of the source is spreading.
- Character 3 learns that his father is angry at the people who caused the infection
- Character 3 goes to the source location and takes revenge on the people there
- Character 3 learns that another very important person has visited the source location and concludes that another outbreak is about to start.
I hope this discussion deepens and clarifies some of what I had discussed in my last post. I'm happy to talk about arcs in more detail with anyone who is interested.