Skip to main content

Writing Your Story

Lesson 15 of 26

Building the Arc


Writing Your Story

Lesson 15 of 26

Building the Arc


Lesson Info

Building the Arc

Every sentence is its own little story, and, ideally, there is drama in every single sentence, and it has a motion, it has a shape, and the shape, to me, feels like this. It's building. It doesn't necessarily go down the way an ending does. I'm sure there are musical connections here, but it definitely goes up. The jury foreman unfolded the paper and said, "We find the defendant guilty," in a voice that was hard to hear, which may have been because she had a cold. Where is the big idea, what I call the power word, in that sentence? Where's the big idea? Who knows? Unfolded the paper. Unfolded the paper, really? I'm gonna ask for another suggestion. Guilty. Guilty, the word guilty. The big news is guilty. Where is it located? Smack dab in the middle, embedded, and then we go on to the voice and the health of the jury foreman. If you've got a moment when a defendant is named guilty, put that at the end, and maybe you have the cold, you might not even, you might lose the cold, but...

the voice of the jury foreman was hard to hear as she unfolded the paper and said, "We find the defendant guilty." He told me he liked my hair, and my long legs, and the gap between my teeth, and my eyes. (audience laughter) Of this list of details, and this has to do with lists of details in general, which is the one that stands out for you, the most interesting of this person's traits? Gap. The gap between my teeth, naturally. The others pale by comparison, and with the gap. He told me he liked my hair, my long legs, my eyes, and the gap between my teeth. Feel the difference? Every sentence, there are always exceptions, but as a rule, let your sentences end on the power word, let your paragraph end on the power sentence, let your chapter end on the power paragraph, and let your book end very powerfully. I have to confess, as I say this, the youngest of my sons said to me one day when he was a teenager, "Do you know "that every time you walk out of the room you, "as you're leaving, you close with a zinger?" (laughing) And I realized, okay, I maybe took that too far. There was a Tiffany style lamp and gold patterned wallpaper and stuffed heads of endangered species of animals covering the walls from his various trips to Africa with his uncle Billy who used to work on Wall Street. What are you most interested in in this sentence? Stuffed heads? Yes, endangered, stuffed heads of endangered species of animals in the middle.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.

Everyone’s got a story to tell. Some are funny. Some are inspiring. Others are tragic. But no matter how compelling your story might seem, it won’t resonate with readers unless you’re able to effectively translate your concept onto the page.

Celebrated journalist, novelist and memoirist Joyce Maynard will give you the tools you need to transform your brilliant idea into an absorbing memoir that readers won’t be able to put down.

Maynard will begin by walking you through the process of identifying your story and how best to tell it. She’ll then help you develop your story through language, story structure, dramatic tension, dialogue, description and editing. Finally, she’ll address the challenges of the writing life, such as how to create a productive practice, design a comfortable writing space, deal with rejection and find an audience.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Understand the difference between telling what happened and exploring your journey.
  • Figure out what to include in your story and what to cut out.
  • Decide on a point of view, a point of entry and a structure.
  • Get over your fears of revealing embarrassing truths about yourself.
  • Stop worrying about being judged.
  • Deal with loneliness and find your tribe.
  • Develop the arc of a sentence, a paragraph and a story.
  • Listen to the sound and rhythm of your sentences.


Annie Y

Joyce Maynard will meet her writing students exactly where many of us find ourselves stranded: at that point in the road where our creative impulse and need for expression begins to lose breath but our sense of story and good writing habits may falter. Her teaching is a glorious, energetic, engaged alchemy of encouragement, permission for wild creativity, and feet-on-the-ground, pencil-to-paper, lessons for organizing and writing your own story. I left this incredible day empowered to tell mine, and totally unafraid to let go of what does not fit into the narrative. She gives concrete examples of good writing, shows you exactly why it's good, as well as hilarious bits of not-so-good writing. Yes, this is a memoir class, but the lessons are simply excellent rules for good writing. The syllabus is ambitious, but Ms. Maynard's practical magic is her gift to render all of this utterly do-able. I loved every minute, left inspired by the entire experience, and profoundly grateful for her wisdom and humor. Thank you!

Diane Shipley

This was a wonderful class, the best I’ve taken, even though I wasn’t there in person! Joyce is an inspiring teacher who makes you feel like your stories matter and guides you toward identifying which narratives to tell and how best to tell them — very few writing classes delve into the mechanics in this way and I really appreciated it. I also appreciated some of her more unusual advice — like that it’s important to think about what you want to write, sometimes for a long time, before you start. By going through students’ stories and providing lots of examples of the principles she teaches, you can see how to adapt the lessons to your own work, and I’ve already started doing so. I also found Joyce very compassionate about issues around privacy and shame and everything that comes up when people share personal stories, and very generous in sharing her own experiences so it’s clear she knows what she’s talking about. I recommend this class wholeheartedly.


Thank you so much for your brilliant course, Joyce Maynard. I am blown away by how much I've learned from you, and how warmly and joyfully you've imparted your wisdom, your skills as a writer and your own beautiful humanity. I am so grateful for this experience. You are not only a gifted storyteller, but a truly gifted teacher, and a delightful, inspiring human being. I hope to learn from you in person in Lake Atitlan at some point in the future.