Plot arcs- The Basics

Plot Arc’s are an important aspect of your novel.

The eight points of plot arcs are below.

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

Every classic plot will pass through these stages personally I don’t use them to plan a story, but instead use the points during my normal writing process, Nigel Watts’ in his novelWriting A Novel and Getting Published does the same.

I find [the eight-point arc] most useful as a checklist against which to measure a work in progress. If I sense a story is going wrong, I see if I’ve unwittingly missed out a stage of the eight-point arc. It may not guarantee you write a brilliant story, but it will help you avoid some of the pitfalls of a brilliant idea gone wrong.

Let’s look at each point and see what it means.


Normal“every day life”  before any conflict arises. Think of Bilbo in the Shire eating and smoking his pipe outside Bag End.


An unforseen event sparks the story off thrusting the protagonist into action.  So Gandalf arrives at Bilbo’s and puts the dwarven mark on his door.

The quest

The trigger results in a quest. These can be pleasant (the finding of a treasure or map) and unpleasant  (e.g. a protagonist losing a parent).


Several elements collude to become complications, obstacles, conflict and trouble for the protagonist. The majority of the middle part of the story takes up this point.

Surprises should not be too predictable or too left field. Instead of randomness the surprises should be ‘Out of the blue’, unexpected and plausible.                                   We want the reader to think “Wow. I didn’t see that coming”.

Key choice

Here the protagonist will need to make a Key choice, a critical decision. At some stage, your protagonist needs to make a crucial decision; a critical choice.  The real characteristics of the protagonist are revealed as the moments of sever stress and hardship, help uncover their ‘true self’.  It is essential that the protagonist makes the choice rather than fall onto the right path by accident.

Here I would like to see a twist where the Key choice is made and effectively it is the wrong choice.


Now that the Key choice(s) have been made, the results should pan out here, leading to an ultimate climax or conclusion. the story should be at its highest peak of tension here. Chekhov’s  gun rule can be applied here quite effectively.

Chekhov’s gun is a metaphor for a dramatic principle concerning simplicity and foreshadowing, It suggests that if one shows a loaded gun on stage in the first act of a story, it should be fired in a later act; otherwise, the gun should not be shown in the first place. The primary point of Chekhov’s advice was to caution against including unnecessary elements in a story or its staging. Failure to observe the rule of “Chekhov’s gun” may be cited by critics when discussing plot holes. The deliberate defiance of this principle may take the form of a red herring: something which the audience is meant to assume will be important to the plot’s outcome, but ultimately is not.


This is where the consequences of the Key choice and conflict will change the status between the antagonist and the protagonist, around who has the upper hand.

For example, a quiet unassuming man will be recognised by a vivacious woman,   a woman may leave a troubled relationship after an argument.

Story reversals should be inevitable and probable. Everything should happen for a reason and things should not occur that have no link to the story. The story should have natural flow and unfold realistically. It should not  be forced, spasmodic or contrived.


At the point of resolution, the characters will have changed from their experience, and become changed and enlightened.

This is a very scant overview of  Watts’ eight-point arc.  Plot arcs can be fun and simultaneous arcs can cross, and involve subplots, arcs within-arcs. You can even use the 8 point plot arc in a single scene or chapter if you are skillful.

Play around with your plots and plot arc and above all make it plausible, but unexpected.

Have fun trying out different plot arcs. Having hastily created this blog entry on my phone, I hope you find it helpful for the basics. Many thanks to ‘The Hobbit’ producers for the amazing screen shots that illustrate the points above.

Neil Sehmbhy is an author from a town that calls itself a city (‘It ain’t a Cathedral honest guv). Author of the forthcoming Corporation, Sunder and Jinx novels you can follow him on @NeilSehmbhy


3 responses to “Plot arcs- The Basics

  1. Pingback: Chekhov’s gun | Jaye Em Edgecliff·

  2. Pingback: Writing the rebirth plot arc: Rathilde | Write on the World·

  3. Reblogged this on neilsehmbhy and commented:

    As I’m currently plotting for my fantasy trilogy Sunder, it’s an ideal time to recap on Plot arcs. There will be a follow on blog regarding plotting posted tomorrow. Happy reading.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s