Building a Good Story: Plot and Eight-Point Arc
In any novel, plot (don’t confuse it with a story) is the basis of a narrative.
A plot means dry facts, actions and events connected by casual links (goals, tasks, motives) and ordered chronologically; this is a skeleton of a story (a hero was born – married – died).
A story is an emotional author’s description of events with additions, judgements, suggestions, possible spin-offs according to the starting chronology (before dying, a hero reminds you of how he married and what life he lived).
A plot is a thought of a story, and the story itself means a development of the plot in practice – in the narrative text. In order to work effectively with the story itself, it is important to deal with the very basis: rules of building the eight-point arc of a plot.
How to Build a Plot of a Novel Using the Eight-Point Arc
In a plot building, there are eight main phases-“points” – elements of a so-called “eight-point arc”. Eight phases: stasis, trigger, the quest, surprise, critical choice, culmination point (climax), reversal, resolution. These are the points of thought development from “once upon a time” through “meetings-fights-battles” to “lived happily ever after”.
Let’s see arc phases in details.
- Stasis – in fact, that’s an exposition: a usual day in a usual time of a usual (or fictional) world. Yes, this is a kind of “once upon a time”, a description of a situation, a starting ground for the plot arc to go “for takeoff”: to its development through the first trigger.
- Trigger – an unpredicted thing. On a usual day something out of the ordinary happens; a case that stands outside the event line and breaks the usual sequence of things.
Anything can be a trigger: an old flashback, a house on fire, a far relative’s or old friend’s arrival, a bad predicting dream, an unexpected firing, a meeting, etc. The point is that the trigger makes that usual and static day unusual, provokes further (and not less unexpected) events and forms a new quest.
- The quest is the result of a trigger.
The quest can take both directions: a) to get rid of consequences of the trigger, to overcome it and to get into the previous stasis status; b) to hold, save and to develop it in order to go on changing the situation.
As a rule, the first quest (a) is for negative triggers, and the second one (b) is for the positive ones. But things can turn tricky: a negative trigger (a fire in an apartment) can work positively (make a hero move, change the job and get out of a bad neighborhood), and a positive trigger (an arrival of the expected relative) can turn negatively (turn into a mass of troubles and a will to get rid of the guest to come back to stasis as fast as possible).
In any case, the quest gets shaped and causes many surprises. And the main surprise, too.
- Surprise– is an event that either pushes events forward or slows them down.
Pushing and pleasant surprises are good, but unpleasant ones are more interesting and important. Don’t forget about worries and issues that make people much closer than happy lucky accidents. And it is easier and faster to “turn on” the story through “heroic” troubles.
Still, there are certain rules that must be kept when working with surprises:
- Do not include too many surprises, one or two is enough;
- A surprise is to be unpredictable and wondering for the reader;
- A surprise should look realistic, logical and trustable, naturally coming from circumstances.
And of course, a surprise has to become a driving force for the critical choice.
- Critical choice: a solution taken to overcome unexpected obstacles and to reach the goal of the quest.
The choice is to be tough, difficult (if possible – turning the hero’s life) and conscious. Obligatory. An automatic decision based on “what’s meant to be is meant to be” principle is the choice, of course, but it is not critical. When a hero does not understand what he or she does, this means the case is an accident not having any influence on the hero’s story.
The decisive choice stands before the turn of the story and the fate of the hero, supposes the hero to understand the responsibility for a deed (both action and lack of action) and “breaks” a new path even through a dead end.
- Culmination point (climax): the result of a surprise and a critical choice; an emotional event of the story; a phase standing before the reversal.
For instance, a hero is on the way to the office, notices the house on fire and hears a child crying inside it. The hero is a coward, and now he needs to make a choice: to call firemen or to run and to save people. He makes a choice: to help. And there goes a climax scene of saving the people from fire. A hero provides them with help, overcomes himself and his own cowardice – and gets late for the job.
And there expects an evil boss who is strict to workers. The boss fires the hero for a good deed.
There goes the reversal.
- Reversal is an event that changes the state of a hero and the flow of a story itself.
The reversal is to be:
- Logical and realistic (in our example it is better to say about the evil boss at the moment when a hero thinks on the choice after overcoming his cowardice, as the boss is a living disaster and the job is critically important);
- Obligatory, unavoidable but unexpected for the reader (yes, don’t forget to surprise them);
- Coming from previous events;
- Their natural result.
The story is empty without such turns, there obligatory is to happen a thing making the reader angry and crying “Why? What for? How can that happen?” And adding later: “Wow! What a …”
- Resolution– the result of the whole arc, of all phases.
The situation gets back to the stasis, to that regular day of a usual time in a usual world. It is the environment serving as a background showing the changed hero, the things he or she has lost and gained. The resolution has to be logical and remain in a flow of the reality but surprising the reader.
How to Use the Eight-Point Arc for Book Writing
The Eight-Point arc can be used not only for the plot of the whole novel, but for any of its parts. So, arcs can be:
- Main – the whole story;
- Big – parts, chapters;
- Small – scenes.
The difference between small and big arcs is in the meaning of a critical choice, the importance of the quest, the scale of surprise, the matter of a reversal and the level of changes for the hero in a resolution.
As you can see, any plot can be built with this scheme. Eight main points can shape any scene, chapter and story of forty books. This is a draft, a mind effort that is better to be made before you start writing. When the idea gains its clear “spine”, it becomes much easier to turn it into an interesting and exciting story.
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