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PLOTTING THE 8-POINT ARC BUILDING BLOCKS TO GET A WRITER FROM BEGINNING TO END

STASIS: (The situation before the story begins) Once upon a time

TRIGGER: Something out of the ordinary happens

THE QUEST: That causes the protagonist to seek something

SURPRISE: But things don‟t go as expected

CRITICAL CHOICE: Forcing the protagonist to make a difficult decision

CLIMAX: Which has consequences

REVERSAL: The result of which is a change in circumstances

RESOLUTION: And they all lived happily ever after (or didn‟t)

The stasis is the base reality of the tale, what life is like in general, not much upheaval or anything out of the ordinary.

The trigger is an event beyond the control of the protagonist which turns things from the average to the exceptional. It can be huge or tiny, pleasant or unpleasant, it may not be recognized as significant at the time, but this is the point where the characters come to life. This is the first blip on an otherwise stable line.

The effect of the trigger is to generate the need for a quest. In the case of an unpleasant trigger, it could be a need to return to the original stasis; in the case of a pleasant trigger, it could be to maintain or increase the pleasure. The quest can change throughout the novel, but if it does, it should incorporate the first quest in order to up the stakes all the time for the protagonist.

The characters need to encounter obstacles on their quest. At the very least, the unexpected must happen. Sometimes the surprises will be pleasant, helping the central character on his or her way. More important are the unpleasant surprises. Surprise is conflict made concrete, and may be caused by another person or by the environment. It may happen suddenly or as the result of an accumulation of events. For it to work well, we need to balance two things: unexpectedness and plausibility. A poorly constructed surprise is often predictable, foreseen ten pages back and boring to wait for. It is no good being unexpected if it doesn‟t happen within the bounds of credibility, however.

If the unexpected brick wall in a hero‟s path in insurmountable, then he comes to a stop and the story is over. If he is to continue the quest, however, he will have to change course, change tactic, and that means making a difficult decision. The word „drama‟ is a Greek word meaning „a thing done‟. Not a thing happening by chance or being done to another, but the action of human beings when faced with obstacles. Our protagonists must respond rather than react. The difference between the two is a question of

decisiveness. The characters may be compulsive, driven, inadequate, and deluded, but they must be responsible for their actions, even if those actions are not enough to achieve what they want. Unless the character is in some way accountable for his or her actions all we have are accident, coincidence, and chaos.

These critical choices come to a head in the climax the decision made manifest. Sometimes the two are back to back, seemingly one action. At other times there can be a long delay. This climax is an event something occurring in the tangible world of things and bodies. It need not be spectacular but it must be visible.

Aristotle defined a reversal as „a change from one state of affairs to its opposite… which should develop out of the very structure of the plot, so that they are the inevitable or probable consequence of what has gone before‟. If the climax does not result in a reversal, then it begs the question if the climax was there solely for spectacle. The climax must change the status of the characters. The reversal should be inevitable and probable.

Resolution is the new stasis, a return to the state of suspended animation on a new level.

The eight point arch by Nigel Watts

1. Stasis

2. Trigger

3. The quest

4. Surprise

5. Critical choice

6. Climax

7. Reversal

8. Resolution

He explains that every classic plot passes through these stages and that he doesn‟t tend to use them to plan a story, but instead uses the points during the writing process:

I find [the eight-point arc] most useful as a checklist against which to measure a work in progress. If I sense a story is going wrong, I see if I‟ve unwittingly missed out a stage of the eight-point arc. It may not guarantee you write a brilliant story, but it will help you avoid some of the pitfalls of a brilliant idea gone wrong.

So, what do the eight points mean?

Stasis

This is the “everyday life” in which the story is set. Think of Cinderella sweeping the ashes, Jack (of Beanstalk fame) living in poverty with his mum and a cow, or Harry Potter living with the Dursley‟s.

Trigger

Something beyond the control of the protagonist (hero/heroine) is the trigger which sparks off the story. A fairy godmother appears, someone pays in magic beans not gold, a mysterious letter arrives … you get the picture.

The quest

The trigger results in a quest an unpleasant trigger (e.g. a protagonist losing his job) might involve a quest to return to the status quo; a pleasant trigger (e.g. finding a treasure map) means a quest to maintain or increase the new pleasant state.

Surprise

This stage involves not one but several elements, and takes up most of the middle part of the story. “Surprise” includes pleasant events, but more often means obstacles, complications, conflict and trouble for the protagonist.

Watts emphasizes that surprises shouldn‟t be too random or too predictable – they need to be unexpected, but plausible. The reader has to think “I should have seen that coming!”

Critical choice

At some stage, your protagonist needs to make a crucial decision; a critical choice. This is often when we find out exactly who a character is, as real personalities are revealed at moments of high stress. Watts stresses that this has to be a decision by the character to take a particular path not just something that happens by chance.

In many classic stories, the “critical choice” involves choosing between a good, but hard, path and a bad, but easy, one.

In tragedies, the unhappy ending often stems from a character making the wrong choice at this point Romeo poisoning himself on seeing Juliet supposedly dead, for example.

Climax

The critical choice(s) made by your protagonist need to result in the climax, the highest peak of tension, in your story.

For some stories, this could be the firing squad leveling their guns to shoot, a battle commencing, a high-speed chase or something equally dramatic. In other stories, the climax could be a huge argument between a husband and wife, or a playground fight between children, or Cinderella and the Ugly Sisters trying on the glass slipper.

Reversal

The reversal should be the consequence of the critical choice and the climax, and it should change the status of the characters especially your protagonist. For example, a downtrodden wife might leave her husband after a row; a bullied child might stand up for a fellow victim and realize that the bully no longer has any power over him; Cinderella might be recognized by the prince.

Your story reversals should be inevitable and probable. Nothing should happen for any reason, changes in status should not fall out of the sky. The story should unfold as life unfolds: relentlessly, implacably, and plausibly.

Resolution

The resolution is a return to a fresh stasis one where the characters should be changed, wiser and enlightened, but where the story being told is complete.

(You can always start off a new story, a sequel, with another trigger…)

I‟ve only covered Watts‟ eight-point arc in brief here. In the book, he gives several examples of how the eight-point arc applies to various stories. He also explains how a longer story (such as a novel) should include arcs-within-arcs subplots and scenes where the same eight-point structure is followed, but at a more minor level than for the arc of the entire story.

Writing the Story - The 8-Point Arc

Writers all think that writing a story should not be formulaic in any way, shape or form, but when a story is done, a story always has a system if it is flowing correctly and results in the reader‟s satisfaction. The system that all stories fall into is known as the 8- point arc.

When beginning to write creatively, a new writer needs somewhere to start and some way to think of a story in an almost mathematic sense. Knowing the 8-point arc can lead to properly structured stories that seem to rise in height to the best place that the reader follows the journey to. Entering the story we must progressively heighten that story in order that the resulting staircase doesn‟t have too wide of steps or too tall of steps but is a one step at a time journey. Planning a story around the 8-point arc provides each step with a proper height and a proper width and the reader climbs with a relatively similar speed with each story that they may have enjoyed. There is nothing new about story writing and the reader has become savvy enough to detect very early that a story‟s plot and ease of reading is nonexistent.

What are these 8-points? I will discuss each point according to the point of their importance and the proper use of them when constructing your story.

Writing’s 8 Points

The Stasisof them when constructing your story. Writing’s 8 Points The Trigger The Quest The Surprise The

The Triggerconstructing your story. Writing’s 8 Points The Stasis The Quest The Surprise The Critical Choice The

The Questyour story. Writing’s 8 Points The Stasis The Trigger The Surprise The Critical Choice The Climax

The Surprisestory. Writing’s 8 Points The Stasis The Trigger The Quest The Critical Choice The Climax The

The Critical Choice8 Points The Stasis The Trigger The Quest The Surprise The Climax The Rehearsal The Resolution

The ClimaxThe Trigger The Quest The Surprise The Critical Choice The Rehearsal The Resolution The First Point

The RehearsalThe Quest The Surprise The Critical Choice The Climax The Resolution The First Point of Story

The ResolutionThe Surprise The Critical Choice The Climax The Rehearsal The First Point of Story Structure Stasis

The First Point of Story Structure

Stasis is the world in which we enter. During the introduction, we should get to comprehend the character‟s everyday world. This world and this situation define everything.

In a show like The Walking Dead we open the series with a police officer and his partner and they end up talking about their issues with the women of their lives. We get familiar rather quickly with how one seems to be a bit of a womanizer and the other is a married man. We soon find ourselves drawn to a car chase and the married man sheriff ends up shot.

This is the stasis. We gain some familiarity with our characters‟ world and come to an understanding of exactly who we are dealing with and the world in which they live. The stasis is where what enters this world as in the beginning but stasis can change. That is a part of plots and story structure. Just because we enter the world as policemen who have women troubles and all else is completely normal does not mean circumstance cannot change according to our next point on the arc.

The Second Point of Story Structure

The trigger is the point by which circumstance changes. The trigger is writing the story‟s reason and purpose for the journey about to be taken. The trigger departs from the stasis and something must be done because this trigger has set forth circumstances to propel the characters into something they cannot change by wishing it so. Something has to happen. This is otherwise known as the inciting incident and in longer fiction should still happen fairly quickly in order that the reader becomes invested.

In The Walking Dead we quickly discover that the fallen policeman is in the hospital and something is not quite right. The world has changed drastically while he was unconscious. The world has turned into a nightmarish land of the walking dead and our sheriff is catapulted into a situation that he is forced to take control of.

The trigger does not have to be met with bravery or action at first. Your characters may take some time to get a handle on their emotions and self-doubt. They might cry or lay in bed for a month. It doesn‟t matter how they initially respond to this sudden problem, but it is sure that a problem needs to arise. The problem does need to be so catastrophic as to encompass the entire world. It can be a problem as small as seeing a black mole on their arm and beginning to think it may be cancer. It can be that they find a briefcase full of money and do not know what their luck is really bringing them.

Whatever you choose is up to you and the journey‟s need arises when the trigger is set off.

The Third Point of Story Structure

Now it is time for your character or characters to begin walking toward their destiny. The quest is when your characters make a decision that they aren‟t just going to sit idle and wish things weren‟t so wrong. They will stand up and begin working toward trying to resolve their problem.

In The Walking Dead the quest begins when our sheriff decides that he must find his family and that no zombies are going to stop him from finding them. He heads to the police station and gathers guns. He learns how to kill the zombies and looks a bit stouter than that blank eyed man he came out of the hospital as. This is the point where we begin walking toward a goal and the pace starts to speed.

Whether or not the trigger is bad or good is of no consequence, there must always be a journey toward something and our next point complicates that journey so that things aren‟t too easy.

The Fourth Point of Story Structure

We can be pleasantly surprised or have traumatic surprises. The Surprise is the point of our story that takes up the largest part of our story. These surprises should not be easily predictable but should make the reader surprised and thinking that they should have seen all of it coming.

Surprises can come in many different forms. They can be complications or obstacles or new knowledge that either propels the character forward or causes a hindrance in their quest.

In the early episodes of The Walking Dead we have a lot of stuff going on. Our sheriff discovers that finding his family is not going too easy when he enters the city. He is met by his first herd of walking dead and becomes stranded and isolated in a tank. He is safe, but he cannot just walk out on his own. When a voice begins talking to him from the tank‟s radio we don‟t know what is going to happen or who it even is.

One thing in this particular episode of The Walking Dead that is positive, our sheriff must make a decision. Will he trust this guy or will he remain safe inside the tank?

The Fifth Point of Story Structure

At this point we are facing a critical decision and we define our character under a high amount of stress. These situations can lead to any end but they must be placed into your story in order to define your character and result in a higher place up the arc.

The moment in The Walking Dead when our sheriff is stuck in the tank and the voice is calling to him and telling him what to do and when to do, the sheriff is forced to reveal that he cannot do this alone. His critical choice to trust a fellow survivor enlightens us to what is coming and how the journey to find his family must be made.

The Sixth Point of Story Structure

The climax is probably one of the more well know points of the story. Even the layman knows when they have reached the climax in a movie. The climax is the result of your character‟s critical choice. It is the highest point of the story‟s excitement. Whether the character wins or loses doesn‟t matter at all, what does matters is that your reader or audience is drawn into the excitement and care about the outcome.

In The Walking Dead episode that I have been referring to (early season 1), our sheriff makes his decision and decides to accept help from the outside and from an outsider.

He leaves the safety of the tank and we are thrust into the heat of his fear as the herd of zombies at first doesn‟t notice him but then grows aware and begin trying to get to him.

A chase ensures and the sheriff‟s fear becomes ours.

The Seventh Point of Story Structure

The climax is probably one of the more well know points of the story. Even the layman knows when they have reached the climax in a movie. The climax is the result of your character‟s critical choice. It is the highest point of the story‟s excitement. Whether the character wins or loses doesn‟t matter at all, what does matters is that your reader or audience is drawn into the excitement and care about the outcome.

In The Walking Dead episode that I have been referring to (early season 1), our sheriff makes his decision and decides to accept help from the outside and from an outsider.

He leaves the safety of the tank and we are thrust into the heat of his fear as the herd of zombies at first doesn‟t notice him but then grows aware and begin trying to get to him.

A chase ensures and the sheriff‟s fear becomes ours.

The Eight Point of Story Structure

The reversal is the inevitable result of the critical choice and the climax. Everything changes at the reversal. Again, it can be negative in nature or positive. Nothing has to be like someone has done it before, but it does have to happen. Just like driving is the stasis and driving fast is the trigger and the wreck is the climax, your story must have some result. Is the driver dead or just hurt? Whatever you would decide, the reversal is the reversal of the protagonist‟s world situation.

In The Walking Dead, after our sheriff gets away from the zombies, he meets the first of his future cast mates. His choice to trust leads him one step closer on his path to being able to find his family. The reversal is that he is no longer alone.

Writing to be Completely Satisfying

In television shows like The Walking Dead we have many of each one of these points of the arc. That is the nature of television. Each episode of a series must always be intriguing and satisfying and exciting. So, the result is a lot of examples of each point can be drawn from one episode or the entire series. The stories on television have to be epic in nature. They are large and one central problem is what everything revolves around and keeps the story moving toward the series finally or the final resolution.

In The Walking Dead we are driven to attend each episode because we want to know what happens and if the living dead problem will ever be resolved. But we are interested in watching because each episode‟s arcs on varying subjects and situations.

Watching television can teach you a lot about how stories are thought up and designed. Each one of us has this arc ingrained into our minds and you should use it when designing your own arcs.

Whatever you write about in any of your stories, this system is not a design for setting rules, it is a design to keep the story structured correctly and according to an age old recipe on good story telling. Writers bend the rules often but never so much as to leave the reader dissatisfied and losing interest. The point of this arc is to keep your writing completely satisfying.

Keep writing and never stop dreaming.