Structuring your Story part three; Harry Potter and the Eight Point Arc

BYS

The Eight Point Arc

The above three act structure and skeleton synopsis is one of the most basic ways to plan and plot your story. A slightly more detailed but still simple method of structuring your plot is the eight point arc, described in great detail by author Nigel Watts and expanded on by screenwriting expert Christopher Vogler in his work on mythic structure for writers (which we will look at in the next chapter). This story arc can also help you set up your three acts and can easily be incorporated into the simple synopsis in the above exercise. The eight point arc pinpoints eight main plot points that will be present in most of the classic seven plots (see below). The eight points consist of;

  1. Stasis. The very beginning, before anything actually happens. Harry Potter’s dreary existence at the Dursley’s for example. In a contemporary novel, as little story time should be given as possible to this. In fact many authors will start with step 2 and then weave the necessary background in as they go.

  2. Trigger. The event or conflict that starts everything off. To stay with the Harry Potter example, a mysterious letter arrives…

  3. Journey. The trigger starts the main character/s off on some kind of journey, be it an inner transformation, a fantasy quest or a race against time to dismantle a bomb. Or Harry Potter going off to Hogwarts.

  4. Conflicts/complications/obstacles. The main body of your story starts to form, and this will take up the main part of your plot. The main character faces a series of challenges or surprises on their way to the end of the story. Harry settles in at Hogwarts, makes friends and enemies, tries out for the Quidditch team, survives attempts on his life, and starts to piece together the mystery of the Philosopher’s Stone.

  5. Choice. Some kind of critical choice has to be made which determines the ultimate outcome and also often reveals the true nature of the main character. Harry chooses to saves his friends and go on to face the incarnation of the evil Voldemort alone….

  6. Climax. The highest point of tension in your story. Harry battles Voldemort to the death.

  7. Reversal. The outcome of the Choice and the Climax. Some kind of reversal occurs – generally a positive one for the main character. Harry defeats Voldemort and is healed of his grief for his parents somewhat when he realises his mother’s love saved him.

  8. Resolution. A return to stasis, although it will be a different state to the one we began with. Harry returns home to the Dursley’s for the summer holidays, but he is a changed boy with his newly awakened wizard powers.

As I discuss in ‘Passionate Plots’ the stasis, reversal and resolution segments should be no longer than necessary. Start and end as close to the trigger and climax as possible, particularly with a contemporary romance or thriller.

The eight point arc would fit into the three act structure as follows

Set up

  • Stasis

  • Trigger

Conflict

  • Journey

  • Obstacles

  • Choice

Resolution

  • Climax

  • Reversal

  • Resolution

Mini- Exercise – With this in mind, choose one of your skeleton structures from the last exercise and incorporate the eight point arc into your chapter breakdown.

Extract from ‘Building Your Story’ published August 2014 by Compass Books.

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2 thoughts on “Structuring your Story part three; Harry Potter and the Eight Point Arc

  1. This is very interesting! I’m creating an outline for my story at the moment and it seems to fit in nicely with this structure. Also, I love the Harry Potter series – those are great examples.

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