Sunday, March 11, 2012

Some thoughts on story arcs...

I've been thinking about story arcs today - using a book by Nigel Watts, called Writing a novel and getting it published. He talks about the 8 point story arc, which details 8 stages that are used in every story.

I'm using the story of Cinderella as an example.

The words in capitals are the ones Mr Watts uses for his eight points.
At the beginning, Cinderella is living with her ugly stepsisters and stepmother, sweeping up.

Next comes the inciting incident, or trigger that starts the story into action.
An invitation to the ball arrives. Both of her stepsisters are excited about going to the ball and meeting the prince! Cinderella dreams of going, but knows she won’t be going, her family wouldn’t allow it. Then the trigger appears, in the form of a fairy godmother who says – you will go to the ball.

The fairy godmother changes the white mice into footmen, changes a pumpkin into a carriage, finds her a dress and glass slipper. The story elements set into motion by the trigger, continue and build momentum.

This stage takes up most of the middle part of the story. Cinderella goes to the ball. There are obstacles and complications, her family are there and she has to make sure they don’t see her. The prince asks her to dance, she has to make the decision to dance with him, even though she knows she’s hiding her identity…

Time is ticking down to midnight. At midnight she’ll lose her beautiful dress, and the carriage will disappear. But she’s still entranced by the prince, dancing with him. When the clock strikes the first peal of midnight, she makes the critical choice – and runs away, leaving her glass slipper behind her.

The prince is determined to find the mystery woman again, and searches all the houses in the land. In the climax he arrives in Cinderella’s house, and tries the slipper onto the feet of her stepsisters. This is the highest point of tension in the story. He’s so close, but she’s in the shadows, not considered, until…

Mr Watt’s states that the reversal should be the consequence of the critical choice and the climax, and it should change the status of the characters – especially the protagonist. In Cinderella’s story, the reversal comes the moment that the prince asks ‘Is there no other female in the house?’ notices Cinders in the shadows, and calls her forward to try on the glass slipper. As her foot slips into it, he recognizes her.

The final point of the story. A new statis. Now, instead of being the downtrodden step daughter, Cinderella’s life has changed forever. She’s in love with the prince, and loved in return. The difference between this new reality from the statis at the beginning of the story perfectly illustrates the story arc.


  1. Psst! Hi Sally - just been reading the free weekend magazine "Live" in the Mail on Sunday newspaper(UK), and "The Morning After" is shown as number 4 in the ebook downloads! Cool, and well done you! Caroline x

  2. Woo! Caroline! Thanks so much for telling me - I didn't know!
    Hi Lacey, glad you liked it, his system made sense to me when I read it too.