Singing the Praises of the Eight Point Arc

Teach Yourself: Write A Novel And Get It Published, by Nigel Watts

A useful tool for the writer’s arsenal

A couple of weeks ago I raided the library of all the books on creative writing they had. Well, that’s not quite true, because most of my pile was books on cricket, but there were many, many writing guides, too. Write a Novel and Get it Published was one of them. It’s small and easy to carry around, and so I stuck it in my bag for a train journey. When I got home, I bought my own copy.

I’ve not even got that far through it. Planning for NaNo and just being on holiday distracted me. I didn’t need to, though, because it is from this book that the eight point arc of which I am so fond came. The arc, if you don’t know, goes something like:

Stasis : Trigger : Quest : Surprise : Critical Choice : Climax : Reversal : Resolution

I have a brilliant explanation of it in one of my notebooks, currently lost in the forgotten civilisation that I call a desk. It was witty and sarcastic, though, so you’ll just have to imagine it.

I’ve been using this structure since I found it floating around on the internet, but it still seems relatively unknown. Today, though, I got the best example of why it’s so good and why everyone should know it.

I was sitting at the kitchen table, pen in one hand, kitten fighting with the other, and breaking my summary down into key events. With each one down in black and white, I then turned to my eight point arc, one for each act of the story, and started plugging in the events. And in my second act, which seemed a bit long, it turned out that there were two surprised and two critical choices.

So I stared at them for a bit, and then I took my pen and crossed out a whole plotline, because it didn’t need to be there.

By layout out what I needed from the story, I was able to see that that whole plotline was not just irrelevant, but was downright unhelpful. If it had indeed been a driving force in the story, and had forced a critical choice, my story would have ended differently. Based on the choice he was forced to make there, it was only chance that kept him in England, rather than fleeing to the Antipodes. He shouldn’t have got the job that introduced him to his love interest, brought his best friend back to him, and ultimately (although this isn’t in the novel) gets him his childhood dream come true. And I couldn’t work out why he did. It shouldn’t have worked, but by some hand-waved arrangement it did.

Once I scratched that extra surprise and choice, though, the story clicked back into place. A to B to C, without anything that wasn’t driven by his choices, and his mistakes.

It also means that he gets less emotionally tortured, which is so nice for him. He’s almost forgiven me for what I do do to him.

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