Eight Point Story Arc

So thank you Melissa for helping me come up with this name!!!

For several Wednesday's I've been featuring Indie Authors on my blog. And I plan to continue this for all foreseeable Wednesdays. I'd like for this to become a small resource for aspiring writers.

I get so many emails from you all asking for advice and how-to's and what not, that I thought it would be nice if you had a reference to go to during your journey to publishing. Or at least the occasional piece of advice that might help you along the way to authorhood.

I'm not exactly an expert, but if knowledge is gained through experience then I have at least three years of it.

So... not that much experience either. :)

And I've made A TON of mistakes. There's something to be said about learning things the hard way. I at least have a lot of advice to pass on.

Plus, I won't be the only one offering advice. I hope to mainly feature other authors that have great nuggets of advice to share with you. And every once in a while I'll slip one of my own posts in here too.

Like today!

I've been wanting to write a post about Plot Structure for a while.

It turns out that not everyone writing a book went to school for it before they started with Chapter One. For instance... like me!!! I graduated with a double BA in Intercultural Studies and Theology. Guess how much that has to do with writing books???

Um, not at all.

Except if you count my real-world experience. But that doesn't get me very far with developing a story.

Couple my lack of story-telling education with the fact that I loathe conforming to any kind of style and the stories I could potentially come up with, if I didn't have a set of rules to abide by, swirl around in a vortex of confusion and randomness.

Thankfully, there ARE rules and set structures for us to follow.

I really mean that! I love that there is a basic check list for me to follow whilst I develop a story. This makes the actually outlining, plotting and creative process infinitely easier!

I was fortunate enough to learn about this process years ago, but after talking to some recently published authors and some aspiring ones, I'm realizing not everyone has heard of this. I hadn't either until after I had attempted my first novel and when I did finally learn about it, it was one of those beautiful Ah-Ha moments that forever changed my life and my story telling. I'm hoping, if you haven't heard of this, that the same could be true for you.

The Eight Point Story Arc!

Sounds technical doesn't it?? Like if you were to sit down with someone for coffee and they were to ask what you had been up to lately and you were to casually say, "Oh, just developing my eight point story arc..." They would probably be very impressed. I mean, right? That sounds fancy.

But in truth, it's very simple. AND it's necessary to every good story.

Sometimes I sit down and start writing and something wholly unthought of comes out. I just start creating. And I have no idea where the story is going, who my main characters are or what the point is.

It's amazing. I love it. And it's one of those activities that makes me fall in love with writing all over again.

And it lasts for all of five or six pages before I get lost in my own head, realize I have nowhere to go and give up.

It's in those depressing moments I realize I should really know where the story is going, who my main characters are and what the freaking point is! Otherwise, why waste my time??? I can't be that creative all the time. And I really can't expect it to all make sense in the end if I've had no objective, no goal to reach.

This is when I step back and start plotting out the finer details.

This is when I take pages and pages of notes and come up with six or seven different outlines until I find the perfect one and hammer out all those little details that are really going to make the story.

Sure, there will still be surprises along the way, I'll still be shocked with what I come up with and characters will behave unexpectedly, but the end goal is there. I have somewhere to go. I have taken a very, very, very wide path filled with numerous plot points and characters and twists and turns and gradually narrowed it down into a pinpoint ending.

It's like a funnel. I pour gallons of water into the top, but I only want a thin, narrow stream to come out the bottom.

Does that make sense at all???

No. Ok, good. Let's keep moving.

:)

That's where the Eight Point Story Arc comes in. Basically it consists of eight steps for your story to follow- like a map. They stay in order no matter what happens in your story, but you decide how far apart they fall.

Here they are.

1. Stasis.

This is the very beginning of the story. This is normal life for your character. This is the buildup to where the story actually begins. Not in a prologue kind of way. But... like, a picture of your character living life however it is for them.

Sometimes Stasis drags on for a while. Think Outlander. We get all kinds of chapters about Claire's life before she fell through time. Chapter after chapter of her married life, how she spent her days and what happened in that rural little Scottish village. Sometimes Stasis is over quickly. Like in Starbright/Heir of Skies (I'm still getting used to that title too!). Stella doesn't get a few chapters of normal life, she gets a few paragraphs. She's driving in a car going home from Tristan's house. This is normal life for her. This is how she spends her days and who she spends them with.

Stasis is a glimpse of life before the story really takes off. But it's important to show your character in their normal setting. You want the jumping point of the plot to really grab your reader's attention and in order to do that they need to see change. They need to get to know your character in both ways- before change/after change.

And then you can tear your hero's world apart and send them into hell. Just as long as you show that they haven't always been living in hell. Or vice versa. Maybe they've always been living in hell and that's their Stasis. Then things change and you put them in heaven.

Or however it works out. Just make sure you give your character a home base.

Then you can turn their world upside down.

And that... the turning of the world is called....

2. The Trigger

This is where the plot begins to truly develop. This is where things start to get interesting and the reader's ears perk up and their eyes become glued to the pages and they decide they won't need to pee for hours and hours and hours, until they get to that very last page.

The Trigger is what sets the story into motion. Claire falling through time. Stella rolling her car. Bella seeing Edward for the first time. Elizabeth overhearing Darcy speak badly about her to Bingley.

The Trigger is the jumping point for the meat of the plot. Where the Stasis can span chapters of books, the Trigger is usually boiled down into one very specific moment.

But what an important moment it is.

3. The Quest

Directly after the Trigger, the Quest begins. This is the majority of the plot, right here. This is where the main character sets out to answer the Trigger. In a contemporary love story this would be the characters getting to know each other, falling in love and spending time together. In Outlander, if I can keep using that as an example, this is where Claire settles into life in Scotland but makes plans to get home. This is Harry's school year at Hogwarts. Or Elizabeth and Darcy falling slowly in love without realizing it. (At least on her end.) This is the delicious part of the story. This is where I want to live forever.

I hate endings.

I could build and build and build plot forever ever and ever amen.

This is where your character is tried through the pits of hell and refined in fire. This is where they become who they are meant to be.

Until of course...

4. The Surprise.

The great plot twist. This is what throws the story into turmoil. These are the moments you put your book in the freezer and decide you are too angry to go on. This would be Ryder finding out that Ivy is a Siren. This is Darcy declaring his love for Elizabeth. Eden finding out she's a Witch. This is that great moment in every story that makes your head twist around and your eyes bug out. It's second only to the climax.

5. The Critical Choice.

So your hero/heroine just got handed the biggest surprise of their life so far... what do they do?? Decide how to go on! Do they cower in fear? Run for their lives? Man up and take down evil, slavering hordes of super strong Zombies??? This is the moment their character is decided (At least for this book. Things could change again in book 2.), their integrity is won or lost, their heart is given away or locked behind the thickest wall known to man. This is your character. When everything is boiled down and stripped away. This who they are.

Until.

6. The Climax.

This one is a little more self-explanatory. This is what the entire book has been moving to. This is it. This is the biggest moment in the entire book. This is what you work to. What you build to. This. Is It. And once it happens there's only a few more steps to go!

7. The Resolution.

What happens after the Surprise, the Critical Choice and the Climax?? Everything needs to be resolved. This is the majority of the last part of your book. If 3/4ths the book was working towards the Climax. The last fourth is winding down with the resolution.

The bad guy dies. The couple finally says I Love You. Ethan and Mattie didn't die but are in fact... crippled. (Ethan Frome anyone???)

And after the Resolution comes...

8. The Reversal.

The final step. This is the return to normalcy. Granted the altered normalcy after your character went through everything they went through. This is the happy ending. This is Elizabeth and Darcy being married. This is Eden emerging from the underground tunnel and deciding vengeance with the rising sun. This is Harry, Ron and Hermoine leaving Hogwarts. "I love you. Real or not real?" This is life after everything. This is the new normal. Your characters are wiser now. They're smarter. They've been through something. And they are forever changed. This is the new them.

And there you have it. The Eight Point Story Arc.

Learn it. Use it. Keep using it. Never stop using it!

Your stories will flow better, they will come together easier and you will have something to fall back on when your characters make that pivotal choice that you know they have to make but your readers hate you for it.

This isn't just a tool for your writer's tool box. This is a contract you make with yourself and your characters so that you stay true to them and the story you set out to tell. This is the Bible of their fictional world and you must not deviate. (Well, deviate a little bit here and there.)

(Ok, deviate as much as you need to in order to get the story out that you want to tell.)

This is the road map from word one until The Very, Veriest, Very Most End.

And you'll be lost without it. But worse, your characters will be lost without it!

And I know you love them too much to let that happen!

****UPDATE****

I had meant to link you to references that you can use besides mine! But this took me all day to write and I forgot by the end of it. I'm adding them now.

Mary Malone's 8 Point Story Arc

Daily Writing Tip's 8 Point Story Arc

Uphill Writing 8 Point Story Arc  - This one also includes a link to a book by Nigel Watt's that goes into great detail about the Arc. When I Googled this structuring just now his book is referenced several times as a great resource and reference point. It might be worth checking out! I haven't read it but plenty of bloggers seem to use it.








Rachel

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3 comments:

  1. Nice write-up! Being able to write creatively is something not all of us are capable of. Count yourself blessed because you have a talent. Getting into the mood in writing does not have a set of rules to follow. ‘To each his own’ is what people say; however, a list of suggestions wouldn’t hurt.mood in writing

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  2. RH, thank you! You rock so hard! I have been waffling around these last few weeks, but your blog posts have given me new determination to continue!

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