Writing for Prose: The Eight Point Arc

The Eight Point Arc is one of many plot structures I have read over the course of my studies, and has its origins in another teach yourself book Write a Novel And Get It Published by Nigel Watts. This one relates to the prose medium and bears a few similarities to the three act structures. For a bit of clarification, the Eight Point Arc is not the Three Act Structure, though there are a number of ways you can reconcile the two which I will eventually go into. In some ways the theory is basic, but is still very functional. Like my article on the three act structure, this is a tutorial rather than a review so sit tight.Eight Point Arc.jpg

The eight point arc, as the name suggests, revolves around eight stages of the narrative. These are as follows: the stasis, trigger, quest, surprise, critical choice, climax, reversal and resolution. These points coincide with a number of common stages within stories, and some of you may notice similarities with other narrative theories since a lot of them do share a lot of common themes.

The Stasis – The name is self explanatory. This is the stage where everything is peaceful, showing the status quo before the start of the main conflict. In books this stasis can last for several chapters or last for less than a page. In the latter case the stasis is usually implied rather than shown, especially in stories which begin in media res.

The Trigger – This is almost identical to the inciting incident which is present in many structures, including almost every variation of the Three Act Structure. In essence this is the event which starts the plot and leads the protagonist into the novel’s conflict. Relating to the stasis, the time at which the trigger occurs can vary and can even start at the first page of the story.

The Quest – This is the main bulk of the story, and lasts for a significant part of the story and generally involves the protagonist pursuing a need. The quest can also evolves throughout the story. Nigel Watts list an example of how a story could evolve from a quest about money, to a quest about love to a quest for survival. This stage is a bit vague but generally the writer should ensure that the quest evolves over the course of the novel as the protagonist’s needs change.

Surprise – The surprise is something which solidifies the conflict and the character development. This can either be a pleasant surprise but it is more likely to be negative. It can be used to make the protagonist commit to the conflict, or alternatively can be used to question their role in the conflict. In relation to the three act structure of the story, I would recommend placing this anywhere between the halfway point and near the end of the second act.

Critical Choice – Eventually the protagonist will face their greatest obstacle. From their they will be forced to make a choice as to where their path will proceed next. This usually leads on from the surprise Stage and leads directly into the climax stage. In general the protagonist is usually forced to make serious choices about where they will proceed next and continuing on their path usually requires them to change their approach. Character development usually comes to a head in this stage.

Climax – The climax is the staple of most stories and the stage is no different here than it is anywhere else. The climax brings the conflict to the forefront, escalating it to its highest point and puts the your characters’ skills and emotional growth to the test. Usually the climax occurs when seem most dire for the characters, and there is usually a sense that it is all or nothing. They have everything to lose but also everything to gain. In order to get the ending they deserve, they must pass this final test.

Reversal – This is a stage within the climax where things begin to turn around for the protagonist. In most stories things usually start to turn around in their favour, but it can also work against them, going from a good state of affairs to bad. Negative reversals are common in horror novels where the protagonist usually dies at the hands of the monster just as they think they’ve almost won. Regardless of which type you go for the reversal should feel natural, a consequence of the previous actions and not come out of nowhere.

Resolution – This stage is a return to an equilibrium after the climax, creating a new status quo for the story. The writer should wrap up any loose plot threads during this stage, and ensure the story has a tight conclusion with a sense of closure, even in stories which end on a cliffhanger. Like the stasis, this stage can last entire chapters or possibly less than a page depending on how long you wish the ending to be.

The eight point arc is strange in that it is very open ended in terms of where the stages actually go in the story, whether they go beginning, halfway or near the end and a lot of it is dependant on the interpretation of the writer. The writer may struggle to write the second act of their novel using this method. Strangely enough, I find the method actually works better for short stories than it does novels since the short word count means the stages usually a few pages apart at most. If your work is novella length or longer I recommend using a variation of the Three Act Structure along with it, since a lot of three act structures greatly enhance the middle of the story. If you wish to read more on the eight point arc, I recommend that you read Nigel Watts’ Write a Novel And Get It Published for yourself as in my opinion it is a staple for any writer who wishes to write prose fiction. Alternatively one can find an article I wrote for the three act structure here. While the article focused on film, many of the concepts still translate and it may be worth a read.

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