How to Plot A Novel Or Screenplay…The Fifteen Plot Spots – Your New Plotting Tool
52 Weeks of 52 Kick Ass Tools!
Welcome to Week 2!
As many of you may know, I am a lazy writer. I like short cuts. I wanted a tool to help me to craft a tight plot line filled with all the essential ups and downs and all building to a climax worthy of the best material out there. A few years (and lots of real life, real writer testing) later this tool was born. I know, I know it took me a damn long time to come up with this short cut – but the smiles of relief on the faces of writers who have been struggling to bring some sort of structure to their work – makes it all worthwhile.
So without further adieu, this week I am offering you another of my basic and essential tools, the 15 Plot Spots. I use this with novelists, screenwriters, playwrights and memoirists.
(Stay tuned: I will be offering some examples of books and movies broken down using the 15 Plot spots in a future post.)
15 Essential Plot Spots
An excellent plotting tool that can be used for movies, plays, memoirs and novels. Here are a few notes to help you with the tool:
Your Story’s Logic
Always be aware of the logic of your story. Every story has its own logic and integrity. Use this plotting tool as a guideline. Many writers plot their stories out using every spot as outlined and it works like a charm. But feel free to add or subtract in areas that make sense for your story.
Moments and Sequences: Some plot spots work better as moments, “single events”, or specific beats to hit. Then again, some plot spots work better as sequences or longer series of moments and events.
Moments will be coded as (M)
Sequences will be coded as (S)
If the plot spot can be a moment or a sequence (author’s choice) it will be coded as (M or S)
1. * The Grabber:
1st page – 1st 5 pages (M or S, Usually M)
Do something interesting and do it quick.
Grab us and tell us why we should get involved in this world.
2. * Old Self in Old World:
1st Quarter of the Story. Act one continues here. (S)
Introduction of hero’s Old Self fears, flaws, weaknesses, desires and needs. Highlight hero’s flaws that he/she will need to face. Show don’t tell.
Hero’s Initial want most of the time the hero wants to avoid change
Bond us to the hero Why do we love or care about the hero? Or, what makes the hero compelling to watch?
Introduction of the Old World Set the stage, where and when does the story take place, who are the surrounding major characters, how are they living, what kind of conflict is happening in the old world? (What is not working in the old world?)
Leave us Curious –> not too much backstory if you can help it
Identify the Evil Beast –>an external element (antagonist, part of society) or an internal element (part of self) that needs fixing
3. *This Changes Everything/The Catalyst:
Early on in beginning section. Act one continues here. (M or S, usually M)
The event that launches the journey.
The knock on the door, the call to adventure.
Old self is challenged to start looking into possibility of becoming new self
Start the rising action here.
4. *Struggles and Prep
The aftermath of the catalyst(S). In this section the hero may:
Struggle with the journey: The hero wonders whether or not to go on the journey or enter the new world. “Should I take the call?” The hero may express positive or negative thoughts/feelings about the information presented in the catalyst. If the hero is running from the journey, he may be trying to stay entrenched in old ways (even though the need for a change for a change may be obvious). Think: denial, anger, reluctance, hiding, rejecting the journey, rejecting the need to change.
Prepare for the journey: If and when the hero decides to go on the journey, the next step is for her to meets with the mentor/wise person for training, advice and to get supplies for the journey.
Note: Often times the hero runs from the journey, then prepares for it.
__________________________End ACT 1__________________________
_______________________Act 2 Begins Here_______________________
5. *Here we go: at 25%
We are leaving Act 1/Act 2 begins. The end of the beginning. (M)
The hero launches himself into a new world, journey begins
The hero often has a new, specific want or goal (hero is on a mission)
The conflict and/or tension is real and present
The action has begun to rise
6. Rough Landing/Small Victories:
Beginning of the middle section. (S)
After the hero has a goal, has walked through the door into the new world and launches himself into the journey, he will experience some small victories (initial success) or rough landing — or a little of both.
Small Victories the hero may experience some initial success and may think it’s going to be a piece of cake in the new world. She may actually have a lot of fun initially, sometimes encountering tests, allies and enemies but sailing through. These small moments of victory may give the hero bits of confidence – thinking they can ace the journey.
Rough landing people may not like the hero in the new world; he is a stranger in a strange land. Encountering small moments of defeat, tests and enemies often make the audience want the hero to get in there and fight.
Note: Whether it’s a rough landing or a small victory, in the new world the hero will encounter tests, allies and enemies.
The hero may develop a new mini-goal based on their overall goal.
7. *The Gut:
Smack in the Middle of act 2/Midpoint. (M or S, Usually M)
Hit us in the gut
Often in comedy/happy ending the Midpoint is a false defeat. Often the Old self is winning
Often in tragedy/sad ending the Midpoint is a false victory Often the New self is winning
Hero has lost hope or is on top of the world
Keep the tension/conflict rising
8. *Do a little Dance/Danger Looming:
After the midpoint (S)
Celebration – but danger looming. Hero might have temporarily defeated inner or outer demons. May party, make love, be joyous – but it is temporary.
Doubts begin, either within the team or within the hero.
The antagonist is not through yet, not by a long shot.
9. *Revelation and/or Obstacle
(M or S) New piece of information, new event or new obstacle that pushes the hero toward the crisis moment. Options:
Someone that the hero thought was an ally turns out to be an opponent.
The audience may learn something that the hero does not know.
The hero learns something about himself or his history that he did not know.
The hero learns something about the opponent or major conflict in the story that he did not know –> the new information pushes the hero to a mini-crisis.
Note: Revelation may pertain to the sub-plot or love story.
________________________End Act 2________________________
_____________________ACT 3 Begins Here____________________
10. *Mini Crisis: at 75%
You are now leaving the second act. Act 3 begins here (M or S)
This is a major turning point.
Think: bad news, failure, rising conflict
Think: the antagonist is visible or has upped his game
11.*New self emerging: (M or S)
Can be a moment where the hero finally understands how to vanquish the evil beast, how to conquer her inner demons and solve her problems.
While the hero now has the idea of how to win the final battle, it is still just an idea and putting it into action will be challenging.
The hero takes the lessons and new tools gained along the journey and tries them out. It’s difficult but the new tools enable the hero to take on old problems and foes in new ways.
The biggest challenge is still ahead and the hero, whether he knows it or not, is in for a big battle. This often leads to deep contemplation.
12. *It’s Not Looking Good:
The story is heating up, tension is high. The moment in the ending half of the movie when my dad would always squeeze my hand and say, “Marn, it’s not looking good. (S)
May have new self – but the problem still exists. Nothing is going our hero’s way and we have no idea how they might solve the problem.
The false defeat has sunk in. The hero thinks it’s a real defeat. That there is no way out.
A hero faces biggest choice of their life –> be a victim and give up or face their greatest fears to become the hero of their own story.
The last battle with the antagonist, opponent or old self is on!
Good vs. Evil may be fighting it out and Evil is strong.
Hero begins to face deepest, darkest fears – and it’s tough.
Hero has lost all hope
Old self has the upper hand.
13. Last Big Decision – Old Vs. New
Right before the Climax/close to the Climax (M or S, usually M)