Moving past the idea of crafting a scene is a concept called the story arc. Us writers hate to think the process of creating a story is formulaic, but the fact is, it does fit into a formula as I am finding. Beautifully crafted words aren’t enough. In Nigel Watts‘  book Writing a Novel, he describes just such a formula.

The 8 point arc is effective for keeping your story on track. I recommend testing all your stories against it. If your plot hits on these points, you’re probably doing something right.

I find this plan useful as a checklist against which to measure my work. If I sense a story is going wrong, I see if I’ve left out a stage of the eight-point arc. On this post, I will cover numbers 1-4.

The eight points which Watts lists are, in order:

  1. Stasis
  2. Trigger
  3. The quest
  4. Surprise
  5. Critical choice
  6. Climax
  7. Reversal
  8. Resolution

Stasis

This is the “every day life” in which the story is set. Think of Cinderella sweeping the ashes, Jack (of Beanstalk fame) living in poverty with his mum and a cow, or Harry Potter living with the Dursley’s.

Trigger

Something beyond the control of the protagonist (hero/heroine) is the trigger which sparks off the story. A fairy godmother appears, someone pays in magic beans not gold, a mysterious letter arrives.

The quest

The trigger results in a quest. An unpleasant trigger might involve a quest to return to the status quo; a pleasant trigger means a quest to maintain or increase the new pleasant state.

Surprise

This stage involves not one but several elements, and takes up most of the middle part of the story. “Surprise” includes pleasant events, but more often means obstacles, complications, conflict and trouble for the protagonist.

Watts emphasises that surprises shouldn’t be too random or too predictable – they need to be unexpected, but plausible. The reader has to think “I should have seen that coming!”