Search This Blog

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Eight Point Story Arc

Today I'd like to begin to talk about the 8 point story arc I've been reading about lately. This article was pointed out to me from Karl Drinwater's blog.

The eight components identified by Nigel Watts in his book Writing A Novel and Getting Published, which I've just ordered for my kindle, are as follows.
1. Stasis
2. Trigger
3. The quest
4. Surprise
5. Critical choice
6. Climax
7. Reversal
8. Resolution

Here are the definitions listed from the Daily Writing Tips website.

This is the “every day 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.

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.

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 emphasises 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.

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 levelling 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.

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 realise that the bully no longer has any power over him; Cinderella might be recognised by the prince.
Your story reversals should be inevitable and probable. Nothing should happen for no reason, changes in status should not fall out of the sky. The story should unfold as life unfolds: relentlessly, implacably, and plausibly.

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.

I'd like to talk about all of these components one at a time, but before I do that, I thought I'd try to break down and find each of them in a familiar story, and will be using The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as an example.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Novel Writing Tips #7 The Three Act Structure- The Resolution

The time has come to discuss the third part of the three Act structure- the Resolution.

Have you ever read a book or seen a movie that you found yourself enjoying and getting engaged in, only to be disappointed by a weak or unresolved ending?  This has happened to everyone, so remember how frustrating it is and don't let your own work fall into the same trap.  It's important to remember that each of the three Acts provides a distinct yet equally important part in your novel.  The third Act is important because it dramatically shows how the protagonist and other characters are able to succeed or resolve the conflicts of the second Act.

The second Act usually transitions into the third Act through the climax, and although the climax is extremely important, it must be followed by a worthwhile resolution.
Can you imagine The Return of the King ending with the destruction of the ring in Mt. Doom?  What if nothing followed?  The destruction of the ring was obviously the climax of the series, but the story needed to be wrapped up from there.  The resolution in the Lord of the Rings was a pretty large part of the story compared to the resolution in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, but again, can you imagine if that story had ended with Harry obtaining the sorcerer's Stone?  This book didn't need or demand as long a resolution as LOTR, but the resolution was equally important in each work.

By the time a story reaches it's resolution, the protagonist has probably learned something important or has somehow become a better person, and it is here we see evidence of that change in a positive character arc.   It is during the third Act that the loose ends (at least the main loose ends) are tied together and resolved. This Act also allows the reader to see the outcome of the main character’s decision at the climax.

A good strong resolution is a crucial and essential element in creating a memorable novel.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Delightfully Twisted Tales: Wisps, Spells and Faerie Tales (Volume Four) [Kindle Edition]

My Review

I really enjoyed this book.  I have always had an offbeat, dark sense of humor, and there were a few spots in this book that actually made me laugh out loud, something that is pretty rare.  For that reason alone I give the e-book 5 Big Es.  This book is very short, but well worth the .99¢ price.  It's very witty and I'll be purchasing more short story compilations from this author.  I look forward to her full length novels.  Note: There is some mild language used in this book.

Nicky Drayden's (author) website

Product Description from Amazon:  A curious restaurant patron gets more than she bargains for, a pair of drunken wizards cause a scene downtown, a boy learns that smoking in front of his little brother might not be such a bad thing, and a timid teen faces a giant in the name of love. This delightfully twisted collection of two short shorts, a poem, and a feature story is easily devoured in one sitting and will leave you hungry for more.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Share Your Story About Forgiveness

Everyone, I'm currently working on a book about biblical forgiveness.  I'm looking for people to interview, submissions of short stories, poems, etc. on your thoughts or real life experiences with forgiveness.  These can include your own struggle to forgive someone, or a time when you yourself have sought or needed forgiveness.  Remember that your voice and your story is important, and no matter what you have to say, there are people out there who will relate and benefit from your contribution.
Interviews or submissions can be anonymous if you'd like. 
The deadline for submission or to contact me about a contribution is 29 February 2012.
I look forward to speaking with you and hearing your stories.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Novel Writing Tips #6 The Three Act Structure- The Conflict

Well, I'm back after slacking over the Thanksgiving holiday, and its now time to discuss the second act of the three act structure, the Conflict.
Once your story is set up and you've established a tone, conflict must be introduced.  Your protagonist needs something interesting to happen to him (or her).
Let's use Star Wars as an example because most people are familiar with the story.  After we are introduced to Luke Skywalker, we get to follow him around for a while, meet his Uncle and Aunt, and get a glimpse of what life is like on a moisture farm on Tatooine.  Can you imagine how boring this movie would have been if we continued to follow Luke around for two hours as he performed menial tasks on the farm?
To keep things interesting to the viewers, conflict needed to be introduced.  The evil galactic Empire showed up and murdered Luke's family, giving him the final push he needed to run off and join the rebellion, and the rest as they say, is history.
Once some sort of conflict is introduced in your story, your characters are given a problem or a series of problems to solve.  This transition into conflict doesn't have to be as drastic as someone's family being killed, but if we like and can sympathize with the protagonist then we care about what happens to him and are pulling for him in whatever kind of conflict there is.
This second act is the largest one, encompassing the majority of the story until a climax is reached and we transition into the resolution of the story, which we'll talk about next time.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Novel Writing Tips #5 The Three Act Structure- The Setup

I'm sure you learned this one way back in grade school, and you'll recognize this structure from all forms of modern day story telling.  The three act structure consists of braking up your story into three basic parts of your story, the setup, conflict, and resolution.  Each one of these elements are just as important as the others.  Today we're going to take a look at the setup.

The Setup- this is your introduction of the books tone, protagonist, other main characters, and setting.  Some stories jump right into the action, while others take a little more time and start a bit slower.  The important thing is that you want to give your reader a reason to keep reading.

I have learned from hundreds of hours of experience that the same thing is true of public speaking.  You have about 5 minutes for your audience to decide if they will continue to listen to you or not.  I don't know how many pages that would equate to in a book, but the point is to introduce your readers to something that draws them into your material and gives them a hunger to keep reading.

Next time I'll write a little bit about conflict, but in the meantime, here is an excellent article on the basic Three Act Structure.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Novel Writing Tips #4 The Protagonist

Time to give some thought to your characters, and the protagonist is a good place to start.  Wikipedia defines the role as follows- A protagonist (from the Greek πρωταγωνιστής protagonistes, "one who plays the first part, chief actor") is the main character (the central or primary personal figure) of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to most identify.
Assuming your novel is a work of fiction, you're going to want to give some thought to your central character.  This should be someone with whom the audience can identify, a person who your reader uses to discover your story.  Usually this person is at least somewhat likable.
In the original Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker is the protagonist, and it is through his eyes that we discover this vast and interesting universe.  One of the complaints with Star Wars The Phantom Menace was that there was no clear protagonist.  You may think it was young Anakin Skywalker, but he didn't show up until about 45 minutes into the film.
Ebenezer Scrooge is an interesting protagonist.  In the beginning of A Christmas Carol, we don't really like this man and hopefully you didn't relate to him very well, but we soon found ourselves pulling for him, hoping that he would see the error of his ways.  It is actually the ghosts (even Death) that we relate to more than Scrooge, but in the end we get to rejoice with our protagonist as he finally understands what the rest of us already knew.
In the Twilight books, (no I haven't read them but have suffered through the movies), Bella Swan meets this role, and millions of starry eyed tweeny boppers got to discover Meyer's world through her eyes.
Can you think of some other interesting protagonists, and how they led you through a favorite story?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Novel Writing Tips #3 Delelop a Method

In the last post I spoke about the way I jump around while writing, and wanted to expand on the method I use to write.
Everyone needs to find the method that works best for them.  I remember watching an interview with J.K. Rowling where she pulled out all kinds of papers that she had taken notes on, as well as concept drawing of some of her characters.  It was obvious that Rowling is not the kind of author who sits down at a typewriter and hammers a book out from beginning to end, at least not from what I saw.
For my books I use a program called Scrivener.  I bought and downloaded this program from the Apple Store for $50 and it's some of the best money I've ever spent.  I don't have a lot of experience with other writing programs, and I'm sure there are some great ones out there, but Scrivener has been perfect for my method of writing.  It allows me to organize all by chapters and scenes easily and jump around while I write.
If you set out to write a book or other lengthy work, just do what comes natural and find the organizational method that works best for you.  If you want to write with a pen and pencil, then that's what you should do.  If you are a skilled typist and like to work on your computer, then find a good program like Scrivener.
I personally don't recommend trying to write a book on something like MS Word, although I'm sure many have done it, and it's definitely an okay place to start.  After your work reaches a certain length however, you'll find that it becomes difficult to manage.  You'll waste time trying to find certain locations in your work or have to deal with a whole lot of different files for each chapter or scene.
The bottom line is, find a method that you feel comfortable with, one that will make your already daunting task easier.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Novel Writing Tips #2 Just Start Writing

Getting started on your work is not always an easy thing to do.  It's a prospect that seems to scare some people.  One thing to remember however, is that writing a large work must be done like eating an elephant, you have to do it one bite at a time.  Writing a novel is a big project, and like any big project, it’s easy to procrastinate about getting started.

One thing that makes this easier for me is the fact that I don't write from beginning to end.  I jump around all over the place, so when I get a good idea, I just start writing.  It doesn't matter if the scene I'm thinking of happens in the middle of the book or the end, I just start writing and then come back in and fill in the gaps later.  I honestly don't know how many other writers work this way, but it’s been the best method I've found that works for me.

The main point that I'm getting at here is if you have a good idea, get it on paper or into your computer as soon as you can.  You might be pleasantly surprised at the way words flow once you convince yourself to simply get started.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Novel Writing Tips #1 Stick With A Genre You Love

Stick With a Genre You Love.
Welcome to my first tip in a series on getting your novel written.  Nearly every reader has at some point wished that they could write a book of their own.  You may find these tips useful, and I'm sharing them because I've found them helpful myself.
First let's talk about genre.  I definitely think that any writer should stick with a genre they love.  I once heard or read someone say, "Write what you know," and I think this is excellent advice.  If you love to read about history, then write about it.  If you love to read crime or mystery novels, then that's a great place to start.
Now I believe that most people already do this intuitively, but there can be things that prevent potential writers from working on a subject they really enjoy.  Perhaps you feel you don't know enough about your subject matter, or may not think there would be a potential audience for what you have to write.  There could be dozens of reasons that prevent you from writing what you want to write about, but my advice is to follow your own heart and write about what matters to you, or what you are most interested in.
The reason I wanted to write a fantasy novel is because this was the genre that's had the most impact on me throughout my life.  The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia were there for me as a child, and now I enjoy sharing them with my own kids.  As a family, we've read the Percy Jackson and Harry Potter books together, creating valuable family time and nurturing the imaginations of our own children.
The Adventures of Michael Belmont series is my first contribution into the fantasy genre, which I have enjoyed so much.  I hope others will enjoy reading it as much as I've enjoyed the fantasy works of others.