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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.