The 8-point story arc . . . or How To Construct Engaging Scenes

Nigel Watts wrote a little book called “Writing a Novel” as part of the Teach Yourself series of books that cover a wide variety of subjects. I was perusing the interwebs years ago and happened across a comment from another writer recommending Nigel’s book, so I hopped on to Amazon and bought myself a copy. Unfortunately for me, at the time the book was rare and pricey and I had to buy a used copy for $20, though now one can purchase a cheaper copy be it paperback or digital. Oh well, it was $20 well spent regardless.

In his book, Nigel explains the 8-point story arc, an incredibly useful tool for writers that has proven its worth many times over since I began implementing it into my own writing ventures. Nigel’s 8-point story arc is freely available all over the internet these days if one does a simple Google search, but I recommend you buy his book anyways because he spent the time writing it and “Writing a Novel” contains much more valuable (though some a bit outdated given our current digital age) information than just his 8-point story arc. So what’s the 8-point story arc? Zip-a-dee-doo-dah:

1. Stasis

2. Trigger

3. Quest

4. Surprise

5. Critical Choice

6. Climax

7. Reversal

8. Resolution

Or . . .

Once upon a time (stasis),

something out of the ordinary happens (trigger),

causing the protagonist to seek something (quest),

but things don’t go as expected (surprise),

forcing the protagonist to make a difficult decision (critical choice),

which has consequences (climax),

the result of which is a change in status (reversal),

and they all lived happily every after–or didn’t (resolution).

Thus is Story, or so says Nigel Watts. And I concur. But I also say the 8-point story arc not only applies to your overall story but also to each and every scene within it. And my suggestion is this: use Nigel’s 8-point story arc and describe your entire novel’s story in one sentence each pertaining to the 8 points of the story arc. This is a great way to grasp a secure feel of your whole story, before spending countless hours and months of daily writing, while also figuring out any pesky plot holes that may pop up.

Now that you have a loose plot of your overall story figured out in a logical though surprising way for your reader, you can next break down into further detail the scenes your story contains by way of applying the same yet different 8-point scene arc. Think of them as mini arcs within the maximum story, bridges leading from one scene to the next. If you wish, apply them to each of your chapters, though you will have to change the “resolution” of your scenes so that each event connects into the next in a continuous flow until your story reaches its true resolution, but that’s a minor detail easily figured out with a little tinkering . . .

And so the protagonist continues forth, executing their new plan of attack (new stasis),

until something out of the ordinary happens (trigger),

causing the protagonist to seek something (side quest),

but things don’t go as expected again (surprise),

forcing the protagonist to make another difficult decision (critical choice),

which has consequences (climax),

the result of which is a change in status (reversal),

helping them decide on a new plan of attack (continuation) . . .

Repeat as needed.

As example, let’s say you have a 20 chapter novel planned for writing. Okay, now let’s apply Nigel’s 8-point story arc as follows:

1. Stasis

2.

3. Trigger

4.

5.

6. Quest

7.

8.

9.

10. Surprise

11. Critical Choice

12.

13.

14. Climax

15.

16. Reversal

17.

18.

19.

20. Resolution

Now one only needs to fill in the gaps with the 8-point scene arc, connecting each of the 8 story arc points with a logical yet surprising sense of flow, and viola! the rest writes itself. But that still leaves a lot of white space begging for filling, truth be told, and if you’re familiar with my detailed writing guide for both Plotters and Pantsers (Pen the Sword: the universal plot skeleton of every story ever told) then you might plug in those pesky plot gaps even further like this:

1. Opening Hook

2. (Stasis) Save the Cat & Kick the Dog

3. (Trigger) Inciting Incident

4. Try/Fail Cycles

5. Physical Crossing

6. (Quest) Fish Out of Water

7. Allies & Enemies & Training

8. Betrayal Set-up

9. Big Success

10. (Surprise) Midpoint Twist

11. (Critical Choice) Rededication

12. Betrayal influence

13. Try/Fail Cycles

14. (Climax) Betrayal Pay-off & All Is Lost

15. Spiritual Crossing

16. (Reversal) Rally the Troops

17. Storming the Castle

18. All Is Lost . . . Again

19. All Is Won

20. (Resolution)

Whew! Isn’t that much better without all the white space screaming for words? Of course it is!

Though the above examples are only that: examples. You can devise your own novel plot chart as according to your particular story, changing and rearranging as needed. As to the details of the fill-in-the blanks, well, that’s what buying and reading the books are for, silly!

In ‘Pen the Sword: the universal plot skeleton of every story ever told’ I break down at length every essential scene required for an engaging story learned from more than a decade and countless hours spent dissecting hundreds of movies and novels, leaving no plotting stone unturned but for your decision to choose and apply the essential scenes to your own story at your writing leisure. ‘Pen the Sword: the universal plot skeleton of every story ever told’ is the perfect writer’s resource for both Plotter and Pantser and their next novel-to-be, especially so the NaNoWriMo writer looking to hunker down for the month and pen that novel they’ve been itching to write all year. You can apply my detailed plot skeletons and your story will practically write itself, or you can pick and choose whenever you feel stuck for ideas while pantsing and are unsure as to what your protagonist should do or what should happen next.

So do yourself a favor and buy your copy of ‘Pen the Sword: the universal plot skeleton of every story ever told’ today. Your novel will thank you and so too will your readers.

Happy writing!

adronjsmitley.blogspot.com

Expert plotting manual for Plotters and Pantsers! Amazon: $6.99 paperback, $2.99 digital, or FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

--

--

Blog for writers on everything plot, character, and story structure architecture at: adronjsmitley.blogspot.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Adron J. Smitley

Blog for writers on everything plot, character, and story structure architecture at: adronjsmitley.blogspot.com