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How to Improve Your Creative Writing Skills

Updated on May 6, 2016
How to improve writing skills. Creative writing prompts and story.
How to improve writing skills. Creative writing prompts and story. | Source

Writers all think that writing a story should not be formulaic in any way, shape or form, but when a story is done, a story always has a system if it is flowing correctly and results in the reader’s satisfaction. The system that all stories fall into is known as the 8-point arc.

When beginning to write creatively, a new writer needs somewhere to start and some way to think of a story in an almost mathematic sense. Knowing the 8-point arc can lead to properly structured stories that seem to rise in height to the best place that the reader follows the journey to. Entering the story we must progressively heighten that story in order that the resulting staircase doesn’t have too wide of steps or too tall of steps but is a one step at a time journey. Planning a story around the 8-point arc provides each step with a proper height and a proper width and the reader climbs with a relatively similar speed with each story that they may have enjoyed. There is nothing new about story writing and the reader has become savvy enough to detect very early that a story’s plot and ease of reading is nonexistent.

What are these 8-points? I will discuss each point according to the point of their importance and the proper use of them when constructing your story.

Writing’s 8 Points

  • The Stasis
  • The Trigger
  • The Quest
  • The Surpise
  • The Critical Choice
  • The Climax
  • The Reversal
  • The Resolution

The First Point of Story Structure

Stasis is the world in which we enter. During the introduction, we should get to comprehend the character’s every day world. This world and this situation define everything.

In a show like The Walking Dead we open the series with a police officer and his partner and they end up talking about their issues with the women of their lives. We get familiar rather quickly with how one seems to be a bit of a womanizer and the other is a married man. We soon find ourselves drawn to a car chase and the married man sheriff ends up shot.

This is the stasis. We gain some familiarity with our characters’ world and come to an understanding of exactly who we are dealing with and the world in which they live. The stasis is where what enters this world as in the beginning but stasis can change. That is a part of plots and story structure. Just because we enter the world as policemen who have women troubles and all else is completely normal does not mean circumstance cannot change according to our next point on the arc.

The Second Point of Story Structure

The trigger is the point by which circumstance changes. The trigger is writing the story’s reason and purpose for the journey about to be taken. The trigger departs from the stasis and something must be done because this trigger has set forth circumstances to propel the characters into something they cannot change by wishing it so. Something has to happen. This is otherwise know as the inciting incident and in longer fiction should still happen fairly quickly in order that the reader becomes invested.

In The Walking Dead we quickly discover that the fallen policeman is in the hospital and something is not quite right. The world has changed drastically while he was unconscious. The world has turned into a nightmarish land of the walking dead and our sheriff is catapulted into a situation that he is forced to take control of.

The trigger does not have to be met with bravery or action at first. Your characters may take some time to get a handle on their emotions and self-doubt. They might cry or lay in bed for a month. It doesn’t matter how they initially respond to this sudden problem, but it is sure that a problem needs to arise. The problem does need to be so catastrophic as to encompass the entire world. It can be a problem as small as seeing a black mole on their arm and beginning to think it may be cancer. It can be that they find a briefcase full of money and do not know what their luck is really bringing them.

Whatever you choose is up to you and the journey’s need arises when the trigger is set off.

How to improve writing skills. Story structure.
How to improve writing skills. Story structure. | Source

The Third Point of Story Structure

Now it is time for your character or characters to begin walking toward their destiny. The quest is when your characters make a decision that they aren’t just going to sit idle and wish things weren’t so wrong. They will stand up and begin working toward trying to resolve their problem.

In The Walking Dead the quest begins when our sheriff decides that he must find his family and that no zombies are going to stop him from finding them. He heads to the police station and gathers guns. He learns how to kill the zombies and looks a bit stouter than that blank eyed man he came out of the hospital as. This is the point where we begin walking toward a goal and the pace starts to speed.

Whether or not the trigger is bad or good is of no consequence, there must always be a journey toward something and our next point complicates that journey so that things aren’t too easy.

The Fourth Point of Story Structure

We can be pleasantly surprised or have traumatic surprises. The Surprise is the point of our story that takes up the largest part of our story. These surprises should not be easily predictable but should make the reader surprised and thinking that they should have seen all of it coming.

Surprises can come in many different forms. They can be complications or obstacles or new knowledge that either propels the character forward or causes a hindrance in their quest.

In the early episodes of The Walking Dead we have a lot of stuff going on. Our sheriff discovers that finding his family is not going to easy when he enters the city. He is met by his first herd of walking dead and becomes stranded and isolated in a tank. He is safe, but he cannot just walk out on his own. When a voice begins talking to him from the tank’s radio we don’t know what is going to happen or who it even is.

One thing in this particular episode of The Walking Dead that is positive, our sheriff must make a decision. Will he trust this guy or will he remain safe inside the tank?

Story Structure - How to Improve Writing SKills

The Fifth Point of Story Structure

At this point we are facing a critical decision and we define our character under a high amount of stress. These situations can lead to any end but they must be placed into your story in order to define your character and result in a higher place up the arc.

The moment in The Walking Dead when our sheriff is stuck in the tank and the voice is calling to him and telling him what to do and when to do, the sheriff is forced to reveal that he cannot do this alone. His critical choice to trust a fellow survivor enlightens us to what is coming and how the journey to find his family must be made.

The Sixth Point of Story Structure

The climax is probably one of the more well know points of the story. Even the layman knows when they have reached the climax in a movie. The climax is the result of your character’s critical choice. It is the highest point of the story’s excitement. Whether the character wins or loses doesn’t matter at all, what does matters is that your reader or audience is drawn into the excitement and care about the outcome.

In The Walking Dead episode that I have been referring to (early season 1), our sheriff makes his decision and decides to accept help from the outside and from an outsider. He leaves the safety of the tank and we are thrust into the heat of his fear as the herd of zombies at first doesn’t notice him but then grows aware and begin trying to get to him. A chase ensures and the sheriff’s fear becomes ours.

How to improve writing skills. 8 points to know.
How to improve writing skills. 8 points to know. | Source

The Seventh Point of Story Structure

The reversal is the inevitable result of the critical choice and the climax. Everything changes at the reversal. Again, it can be negative in nature or positive. Nothing has to be like someone has done it before, but it does have to happen. Just like driving is the stasis and driving fast is the trigger and the wreck is the climax, your story must have some result. Is the driver dead or just hurt? Whatever you would decide, the reversal is the reversal of the protagonist’s world situation.

In The Walking Dead, after our sheriff gets away from the zombies, he meets the first of his future cast mates. His choice to trust leads him one step closer on his path to being able to find his family. The reversal is that he is no longer alone.

The Eighth and Final Point of the Arc

The resolution is a return to some normalcy. The characters will be wiser and they will be changed from their struggle but they can now rest again. The story is complete and no ends are left untied. The resolution leaves a feeling of satisfaction in the audience and the reader.

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Writing to be Completely Satisfying

In television shows like The Walking Dead we have many of each one of these points of the arc. That is the nature of television. Each episode of a series must always be intriguing and satisfying and exciting. So, the result is a lot of examples of each point can be drawn from one episode or the entire series. The stories on television have to be epic in nature. They are large and one central problem is what everything revolves around and keeps the story moving toward the series finally or the final resolution.

In The Walking Dead we are driven to attend each episode because we want to know what happens and if the living dead problem will ever be resolved. But we are interested in watching because each episode’s arcs on varying subjects and situations. Watching television can teach you a lot about how stories are thought up and designed. Each one of us have this arc ingrained into our minds and you should use it when designing your own arcs.

Whatever you write about in any of your stories, this system is not a design for setting rules, it is a design to keep the story structured correctly and according to an age old recipe on good story telling. Writers bend the rules often but never so much as to leave the reader dissatisfied and losing interest. The point of this arc is to keep your writing completely satisfying.

Keep writing and never stop dreaming.

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    • Mark Tulin profile image

      Mark Tulin 5 months ago from Santa Barbara, California

      I'll keep those eight points in mind when I construct my story arc. Thanks.

    • Rebekah Ozanne profile image

      R.Oz 3 years ago from Western Australia

      Thank you, this is interesting and useful and I like that it is based around a current TV show. This makes it have "cool factor" for younger readers - I tutor some students in English and will use this article as a guide if that's okay?

      My only suggestion would be making each section's title the first, second or third point in the arc e.g.: Stasis or Trigger. Because I started ignoring the title because of it's repetitive nature…. Just my humble opinion

    • JRScarbrough profile image
      Author

      JR Scarbrough MFA 3 years ago from United States

      Updated to fix some errors pointed out. I finally managed to get some time and am now adding abundantly to Hubpages. Thanks guys.

    • JRScarbrough profile image
      Author

      JR Scarbrough MFA 3 years ago from United States

      Yes. Basically, it is all experimental in nature. In early works of fiction, we see protagonists against antagonists, one arc, a beginning a middle and an end. Now, we see how time has created stories around several central characters that might be complete enemies and yet, depending on who you are and your taste, are who you might follow or support or want to see win. We see that Darth Vader has his own arc, and thought Ned Stark is put to death, his family continue with their own individual arcs. It is fascinating how the epic is woven together to fit the main arc by perfectly coordinating each sub-arc. We see evidence of your Antagonist theory is both Vader and Joffrey Baratheon. Some people watch Games of Thrones just to hate Joffrey. Anyone would have to agree that subsidiary characters and their own arcs are instrumental to each person's desire to finish the story as a whole. It is a quilt of sorts. Each part is interesting in and of itself, but most certainly contains elements of each point.

    • Writer Jim profile image

      Writer Jim 3 years ago

      Would you also agree that episodes in a series like "The Walking Dead" or installments of a series of feature films like "Star Wars" are in reality just one of the 'Surprises' in the Fourth Point of Story Structure of the complete story arc - merely an obstacle that has to be overcome to achieve the protagonist's goal? Would you also agree that in a TV series and feature film installment, the story that is tracked to completion is not that of the Protagonist, but of the Antagonist or a subsidiary character?

    • JRScarbrough profile image
      Author

      JR Scarbrough MFA 3 years ago from United States

      Yes Jim, I would agree somewhat with your original comment. But we aren't talking relative to only screenwriting. We are referring to an arc that even an individual episode of The walking Dead contains within the framework of the entire 4 seasons. Ups and downs, walls, doors, more walls, safety, disruption of that safety, new discovery. We are breaking down points. As you develop a knack for linking one to another, we then start delving into what we would refer to as an epic story. Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones. Each story is boxed separately in each installment. Terry Brooks did such a thing with Shannara. You might ask, in Star Wars, was the climax when Luke destroyed the first Death Star or was it on the second Death Star and the death of Vader? Each installment of all six episodes carried each of these points but within the framework of a larger story. The larger story was structured as such as a whole. Thus, an epic journey.

      The Act method has nothing to do with any points on this arc. Act One, Two and Three are simply a divisive nature within a screenplay to mark where each point of the story's rise and fall. Before one can complete an act, one must first understand what makes a story. Act One is simply an introduction to where, when, how, and who. The trigger in a screenplay begins the journey into the bulk of the film. Act Two. The act structure is more of a playwright formulation, although many screenwriters refer to their page numbers by acts. The first 20 minutes or 20 pages is act one, and so on. This does nothing to help anyone understand what a story is attempting to accomplish, thus, the 8 point arc was devised by reverse engineering of successful stories in general, not just screenwriting -- but the story.

      The point of the arc scenario, that I lay no claim to, is to learn how to entice readers or movie goers or The Walking Dead addicts to stay seated and continue on pulling for whoever they are pulling for. There is no hard and fast rule on an epic story. In a single movie, as we saw in Star Wars or Lord of the Rings, we can know there is more to come on how we land at the conclusion. Where on this arc did The Empire Strikes Back fall at it's conclusion? The Two Towers? Pulling individual episodes from shows such as Game of Thrones, we can see what is referred to as a cliffhanger. Someone dies we did not expect to die. Suddenly, all is lost seemingly. Then a victory, but the battle is not yet won. These are two totally different subjects. The arc is not a hard and fast rule on how you should formulate your story. It is an exercise in points that are time tested in readers and all consumers of film and television. It is the engine that drives curiosity and intrigue within the captive audience.

      *You are correct though, copy and paste on hub must've gotten lost on me. I will remedy that shortly. I'll have to dig up the word article. I don't really like this sectional text box editing format and must've got lost in my own document while pasting my hub. As you can notice, I don't much attend hub pages now. After I won the most coveted award here, I maxed out my hub fame desire. :P

    • Writer Jim profile image

      Writer Jim 3 years ago

      Oh, and I was a little confused by the second page listing of the 8 points which referred to The Rehearsal. That threw me until I read Eight Point and discovered it was The Reversal.

    • Writer Jim profile image

      Writer Jim 3 years ago

      Besides the biggest problem that the Sixth Point and Seventh Point appear to be identical paragraphs is that the examples all relate to one episode of an on-going, open ended story which is not quite the same as the complete story found in a screenplay. And, the Fourth Point should really be entitled The Surprises since it encompasses what is traditionally referred to as Act Two in a screenplay. That Act should consist of a multitude of incidents, both good and bad, which will eventually lead to the Fifth Point - the protagonist's critical decision.

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      Without honest opinion we are never going to improve because we will never know where we are going wrong.

      Yes a hub on first to second draft would be very useful to us new writers.

      I visited your website and find it is going to be an awesome way to learn and read tips and advice.

      Thank you

    • JRScarbrough profile image
      Author

      JR Scarbrough MFA 4 years ago from United States

      I actually do that over on my blog. I am Persistent Pen. Just Google that and I have two sites. You can also email me directly and I could probably build a hub so that the process can help others. I critique honestly but also respectfully. I have a lot of experience reviewing work for underclassmen and writers who genuinely want to improve and get advice. Critique can be very uncomfortable for new writers, but I must tell you, every writer needs it. Even Stephen King gets critiqued by his editors. Learning to digest it and overcome the dread of critique is the first step to getting good.

      All writers ramble in our initial drafts. Just write. The second draft is where you start ordering it into something more interesting and structured. I can do a hub on first draft to second draft that would be valuable for that.

      Thanks for your input. I’ll certainly take a look at anything you’d want me to and document a review and pointers list to help you overcome early issues. Just remember, everyone has to start somewhere. No writer just writes a book from beginning to end and sells it. I’ve had the opportunity to have access to successful movie scripts in their first draft to the shooting script. It is very funny how it all happens. The first draft never makes for an easy read.

    • Rosemay50 profile image

      Rosemary Sadler 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

      I definitely need to consider structure. I start my story and I know the ending, it's just a matter of my fingers getting me there usually. It comes to me as I type, without any plans or structure.

      You know what would benefit many of us here on HP is a review of our stories and give honest critique and show where we are going wrong or where we could improve. We can only get better if we are told honestly how we need to do that.

      Perhaps a hub series on request from writers - that would keep you busy. Lol

      Great hub with good advice. Thank you

    • profile image

      Vickiw 4 years ago

      Some of us don't seem to flow a prescribed method! I never even write an outline, but somehow my writing manages to flow. Of course, it may well be that I could do a lot better by writing with your plan!