Continuing from Nigel Watts’ book Writing A Novel and Getting Published are numbers four through eight of the story arc.

Critical choice

At some stage, your protagonist needs to make a crucial decision; a critical choice. This is often when we find out exactly who a character is. Watts stresses that this has to be a decision by the character to take a particular path – not just something that happens by chance.

In many classic stories, the “critical choice” involves choosing between right or wrong choices that also involve the moral high ground.

In tragedies, the unhappy ending often stems from a character making the wrong choice at this point. For example, Romeo poisoning himself on seeing Juliet supposedly dead.

Climax

The critical choice(s) made by your protagonist need to result in the climax, the highest peak of tension, in your story.

For some stories, this could be the firing squad levelling their guns to shoot, a battle commencing, a high-speed chase or something equally dramatic. In other stories, the climax could be an argument between a husband and wife, or a playground fight between children, or Cinderella and the Ugly Sisters trying on the glass slipper.

Reversal

The reversal should be the consequence of the critical choice and the climax, and it should change the status of the characters – especially your protagonist. For example, a downtrodden wife might leave her husband; a bullied child might stand up for a fellow victim and realise that the bully no longer has any power over him; Cinderella might be recognized by the prince.

“Your story reversals should be inevitable and probable. Nothing should happen for no reason, changes in status should not fall out of the sky. The story should unfold as life unfolds: relentlessly, implacably, and plausibly.” Nigel Watts.

Resolution

The resolution is a return to a fresh stasis – one where the characters should be changed, wiser and enlightened, but where the story being told is complete.

You can always start off a new story, a sequel, with another trigger.

In the book, Watts gives several examples of how the eight-point arc applies to various stories. He also explains how a longer story should include arcs-within-arcs – subplots and scenes where the same eight-point structure is followed.