Plot month continues on WU.
There are as many different ways to plot as their are people to write stories, by which I mean, there is no right way to plot. My rule has always been the simpler, the better. For many writers, the simplest frame for plotting out a novel-length story is the three-act structure. In other words, a beginning, a middle, and an end.
The best breakdown I’ve seen that doesn’t involve buying a screenplay writing book is Peder Hill’s outline (view the complete page HERE). In the past, I’ve printed his outline out and use it as a starting point to hash out ideas. Second only to Holly Lisle’s invaluable website for writerly information and tips, Hill’s page on what he calls the elements of writing is extremely useful. I tried to contact Peder to invite him to WU for a guest blog, but to no avail. Peder, if you’re reading, please contact us!
Drumroll . . . here it is, Peder Hill’s breakdown of the three-act structure:
Character Arc and Story Structure
- Act 1
- In the Beginning of a story the main character, being human (even if he of she isn’t), will resist change (inner conflict). The character is perfectly content as he is; there’s no reason to change.
- Plot Point 1 – Then something happens to throw everything off balance.
- It should come as a surprise that shifts the story in a new direction and reveals that the protagonist’s life will never be the same again.
- In Star Wars this point occurs when Luke’s family is killed, freeing him to fight the Empire.
- It puts an obstacle in the way of the character that forces him or her to deal with something they would avoid under normal circumstances.
- Act 2
- The second Act is about a character’s emotional journey and is the hardest part of a story to write. Give your characters all sorts of challenges to overcome during Act 2. Make them struggle towards their goal.
- The key to Act Two is conflict. Without it you can’t move the story forward. And conflict doesn’t mean a literal fight. Come up with obstacles (maybe five, maybe a dozen—depends on the story) leading up to your plot point at the end of Act 2.
- Throughout the second act remember to continually raise the stakes of your character’s emotional journey.
- Simultaneously advance both inner and outer conflicts. Have them work together—the character should alternate up and down internally between hope and disappointment as external problems begin to seem solvable then become more insurmountable than ever.
- Include reversals of fortune and unexpected turns of events—surprise your reader with both the actions of the main character and the events surrounding him.
- Plot Point 2
- Act Two ends with the second plot point, which thrusts the story in another unexpected direction.
- Plot Point 2 occurs at the moment the hero appears beaten or lost but something happens to turn the situation around. The hero’s goal becomes reachable.
- Right before this unexpected story turn, the hero reaches the Black Moment—the point at which all is lost and the goal cannot be achieved.
- In order to have a “Climax”, where the tension is highest, you must have a “Black” moment, where the stakes are highest and danger at its worst.
- During this moment, the hero draws upon the new strengths or lessons he’s learned in order to take action and bring the story to a conclusion.
- Dorothy’s gotta get a broom from the Wicked Witch before she can go home.
- Luke’s gotta blow up the Death Star before fulfilling his destiny.
- Professor Klump’s gotta save face with the investors of his formula and win back Jada.
- Act 3
- The third Act dramatically shows how the character is able to succeed or become a better person.
- Resolution/denouement ties together the loose ends of the story (not necessarily all of them) and allows the reader to see the outcome of the main character’s decision at the climax. Here we see evidence of the change in a positive character arc.
Have you used the three-act structure to plot your novel? Does it work for you? What are the pitfalls you’ve encountered? Let us know in the comments.
Image by mikeypetrucci.