The “Arc” of Writing

While on the topic of technical writing, I came across an article on Business Insider by Chris Weller that talked about Steven Pinker’s “arc of coherence” while writing.

As Weller points out, our brains hate to work. As soon as something becomes a little complicated or confusing, it’s not enjoyable anymore. That’s the last thing we want our writing to be, so we need to make coherent and smooth sentences, paragraphs, and chapters.

Weller nicely explains how writing works in simplistic terms, “Nouns revolve around verbs to push sentences (and thus ideas or plots) forward. These sentences then get strung into paragraphs. Paragraphs build sections. Sections build chapters. Chapters build a book.” Each of these sentences, paragraphs, and chapters are “arcs.” The idea is to fit each “arc” together as naturally as possible, which Pinker refers to as “coherence relation.” To explain it a little better, Weller says that “coherence relations are the glue that hold arcs together.”

Having successful “coherence relations” is the key to smooth, easy, enjoyable reading. You don’t need to blatantly show the reader what you are doing- just the words around each other, the words that connect sentences, and the flow of chapters needs to make sense. Coherence is all that is needed.


But many writers fail to do this. Scattered thoughts, missing details, and dropped scenes make it harder for the reader to understand what is going on in the story. If you have to reread sentences, sections, or chapters again and again just to piece together what is happening you probably aren’t going to pick up another book by that author, you may not even finish reading the current book.

Good writing does take practice sometimes. Weller suggests that sorting out your ideas before you start writing helps this coherence to take place naturally, you want your writing to feel like “I am showing you something, rather than us figuring it out together.” Write On.