4.3 Story structures

The brief asked a number of questions in relation to the Eight point story arc:

  • Consider this  plot structure in your learning log.
  • How might it be useful for getting more from your own drawings?
  • Can you find a story which already conforms to the structure ?

Consider this plot structure in your learning log

A story structure of or narrative arc refers to the structure of a fiction or non-fiction story. It provides  way to set the pace of a story and ensures readers are engaged from start to finish.

The most basic structure is beginning, middle and end.

The Eight point story arc is one example of a narrative arc. There are many others.

The following diagram shows the typical story arc.

Narrative structure diagram

Whilst the story arc provides structure there is an equally important factor to consider. Is the idea any good? Is it engaging enough? Whilst an idea might be fantastic, how do you know through whose eyes to tell it? Out of a great idea what is the angle, approach or vehicle that is going grab the reader by the eyes and make them want to read more?

Jessica Able in her excellent Podcast and book ‘Out on the Wire’ suggests a number of tools to help narrow down on these important elements.

The focus sentence (for plot or character driven projects)

Someone …..does something …….. because …….but

The XY formula (useful for idea driven stories)

I’m doing a story about X, and what’s interesting about it is Y

I found these really useful in shaping my ideas for Assignment 4 Building stories.

Once I had a strong idea and understood what was interesting about it, I used the narrative arc to provide the structure.

How might it be useful for getting more from your own drawings?

Creating a successful illustrated narrative requires multiple ingredients and skills:


  • Strong narrative
  • Plot
  • Interesting characters
  • Conflict
  • A script
  • Page layout/structure
  • Picture/word design and interplay
  • Well researched content
  • An illustrative style

Skills required:

  • Writer
  • Editor
  • Researcher
  • Illustrator
  • Draftsman
  • Graphic designer

All of the ingredients have a potential effect on the visual illustration. In an illustrated sequence, the Illustrator’s visual interpretation of the script needs to take into account the motivations and characteristics of the characters, understanding where and when the story is situated in time and space, thinking about the central conflict and considering plot.

Chekhov’s gun illustrates the point. In his dramatic principle, Chekhov states: Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

The narrative arc provides the skeleton of the story. The plot is the skeleton and illustrative interpretation provides the flesh on the bones and brings the story to life.

Can you find a story which already conforms to the structure ?

The Hobbit by J R Tolkien, story arc:

No Stage Description
1 Stasis Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit that lives a very normal quiet life in the Shire,
2 Trigger until his world is turned upside down when he’s visited by a wizard called Gandalf and a group of thirteen dwarves.
3 Quest Thorin, the leader of the dwarves has a map and key to the Lonely Mountain, and a mission to retake the mountain from a fierce dragon that guards a massive hoard of treasure.
4 A surprise The small band of adventurers go through many trials and difficulties as they journey to the mountain.

During one of these, Bilbo accidentally finds a magic ring that was lost by the creature Gollum.

After being captured and escaping from giant spiders in Mirkwood and using his magic ring to free the dwarves from the wood-elves, they reach the mountain.

They manage to sneak into Smaug’s cave where Bilbo secretly finds and hides the Arkenstone. Smaug is so angry he flies out of the mountain and is killed by the lake men.

5 A critical choice After killing the dragon, the lake men and wood elves march up the Lonely Mountain to claim their portion of the treasure.

The dwarves barricade themselves in and a battle seems unavoidable.

In an frustration Bilbo hands the precious Arkenstone over to the lake men and wood elves in order for them to use it as a bargaining chip with Thorin.

6 The climax Thorin is furious but is persuaded by Gandalf not to harm Bilbo.

A huge ‘Battle of the Five Armies’ takes place where the dwarves, men and elves fight and defeat the goblins.

Thorin is killed.

7 The resolution Bilbo and Gandalf return the Shire, and Bilbo seeks out the quiet life he always wanted.



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