Create and Structure Your Plot with 7-Step Storytelling Tools

Story Arc

The main plot is a thread of crucial events that comprise the narrative of what occurs within the story (i.e., the cause) and the result (i.e., the effect). Create and structure your plot with 7-Step Storytelling tools.

The Relationship between Characters, Plot, Theme, and Structure

A symbiotic relationship exists between characters, plot, theme, and structure.

  • Characters are who experience the story.
  • Plot is what happens within the story.
  • Theme is why the story matters.
  • Structure is how the story is told.

Create Plot Events

Brainstorm, develop, and refine plot events using 7-Step Storytelling tools.

☞Premise

The premise gives a story’s big picture and writer’s development strategy. It’s stated in one sentence, combining character, plot, theme, symbol, event (i.e., the Story Problem), and a sense of the hero and story outcome (i.e., the hero’s change).

☞Character Profiles

Plot events force characters to face conflicts, but it’s their reactions that convey a wide range of feelings to your audience. Enneagram types give writers a guide to crafting character reactions.

☞Story Spine

When you build a Story Spine, it’s what supports a well-constructed narrative. The Story Spine is a multifaceted writer’s tool, enabling you to improvise a narrative quickly.

☞Story Body

The Story Body fleshes out the bare-bones Story Spine before you complete the Global Story Beats. The framework presents you with prompts and you fill in the blanks.

☞Global Story Beats

Story structure serves as the foundation of storytelling, giving writers guidelines for where and when plot events will take place, encouraging you to name each scene for easy reference.

☞Logline

A one-to-two-sentence logline enables you and others to envision the emotional aspects of the entire story. Measure whether the plot aligns with the emotional expectations established by the logline.

☞Scenes and Sequences

Story scenes convey to readers essential characters, settings, and events. Although each scene has a purpose, they work together in sequences to fulfill the Global Story Beats and plot.

Structure Plot with Global Story Beats

The Global Story Beats help writers define not only what happens but the order of events in an audience-satisfying sequence.

Please keep in mind the Global Story Beats represent general patterns, and authors are free to vary the locations and percentages. As principles, these beats are useful for interpreting and writing stories, but not as rules.

To give you a glimpse of how the beats can help you develop the plot, I included examples from the romance and mystery genres. Writers surprise and delight readers by coming up with fresh approaches to these time-proven beats.

ACT 1: STABLE WORLD

☞HOOK*

The first scene introduces essential aspects of the story and grabs readers with an intense need to know what happens next. For example:

  • Romance: The potential meeting of lovers creates a need to know: will they actually meet?
  • Cozy Mystery: The discovery of a dead body raises the question: who did it?

*Note: The story’s HOOK is part of the SETUP sequence.

☞SETUP

This sequence of scenes in the Stable World establishes the characters, their wants, the stakes, story theme, and the need for change. For example:

  • Romance: The scenes introduce the lovers, their backstories, other characters, the story’s themes (i.e., external, internal, and philosophical), and the external story problem.
  • Cozy Mystery: The scenes intrigue readers with a puzzle (i.e., who did it), and introduce the suspects, ancillary characters, true and false clues, potential motives, suspect interviews, the story themes (i.e., external, internal, and philosophical).

☞TRIGGER**

Halfway through Act 1, a major event triggers the disruption of the protagonist’s Stable World, stopping hero from continuing as before. For example:

  • Romance: The lovers meet, and that raises another question: will they stay together?
  • Cozy Mystery: The stakes become apparent, encouraging the reluctant sleuth to investigate, and that creates a new question: will the lead character investigate?

**Note: The HOOK and TRIGGER are separate events.

☞WRANGLE

In this sequence of scenes, the primary character wrangles with move-forward choices, but resists the need for change. For example:

  • Romance: One lover debates whether they’re right for the other, setting in motion a series of conflicts.
  • Cozy Mystery: The reluctant sleuth wrangles with choices, facing external and internal conflicts that influence whether to investigate.

☞THRUST INTO 2

In this scene, the lead character acts on the choices made in the WRANGLE sequence, thrusting the individual into an Unstable World. For example:

  • Romance: The lovers’ initial efforts to get together fail, thrusting them into an Unstable World.
  • Cozy Mystery: The lead protagonist encounters a person or an event that encourages the investigation of the crime, compelling the amateur sleuth to enter the Unstable World.

ACT 2A: UNSTABLE WORLD

☞RESPONSE

In this sequence of scenes, the chief protagonist responds to the Unstable World, and meets someone who will help them learn the internal theme. For example:

  • Romance: One lover meets a person who can help the individual get together with the other lover.
  • Cozy Mystery: The lead protagonist struggles in the Unstable World, and while wrestling with raised stakes and hunting for the murder motive, meets a person capable of helping the lead character learn the theme.

☞POWER PLAY 1

This scene shows the power of the opposing force and establishes the core conflict. For example:

  • Romance: The opposing force (e.g., rival lover, society, environment, distance, obligations, secrets, lies) exerts power over one lover or both, causing more conflicts.
  • Cozy Mystery: The reluctant sleuth receives a threat from the yet unidentified killer and uncovers more clues.

☞PREMISE

This sequence of scenes fulfills the novel’s premise, giving readers the events and emotions they crave. For example:

  • Romance: One lover or both express or show their intentions toward the other.
  • Cozy Mystery: While still somewhat reluctant, the amateur sleuth amps up the investigation, interviewing suspects and narrowing down the list of potential killers, even though the stakes continue to rise.

☞MIDPOINT

This scene shows the chief protagonist’s status (i.e., winning or losing), increases the stakes, and gives the sleuth insight, shifting the focus from the individual’s want to need.

  • Romance: One lover or both realizes a “need for love.”
  • Cozy Mystery: The sleuth accepts the “need to investigate” even though the stakes rise again.

ACT 2B: UNSTABLE WORLD (Continued)

☞ACTION

In this sequence of scenes, the lead character takes action based on a discovery, changing the individual’s trajectory (i.e., up or down). For example:

  • Romance: The lovers break up or are forced to separate because of conflicts or events.
  • Cozy Mystery: Caught up in the active investigation, sleuth interviews suspects even though the threat of harm increases.

☞POWER PLAY 2

This scene hints at what is coming when the lead character PLUNGES INTO 3, emphasizing the ever-increasing stakes. For example:

  • Romance: One lover vows to bring them together, increasing the stakes.
  • Cozy Mystery: The mystery killer increases the sleuth’s risks.

☞BATTLE 1

In this sequence of scenes, the chief protagonist battles the opposing force, and appears to win (or lose) BATTLE 1. For example:

  • Romance: The opposing force threatens to keep the lovers apart regardless of their efforts, but somehow they stay together—for now (i.e., in this plot example, the lovers appear to win).
  • Cozy Mystery: The sleuth makes progress toward identifying the actual killer, sensing victory is near (i.e., in this plot example, the sleuth appears to win).

ACT 3: CHANGED WORLD

☞PLUNGE INTO 3

In this scene, the victory at the end of Act 2B is reversed, plunging the lead character into an all-is-lost state (i.e., a looming sense of physical, professional, or psychological death). It’s the hero’s lowest point in the story. As per Blake Snyder, it’s like that moment when a caterpillar wraps itself in a cocoon. For example:

  • Romance: The lovers break up or sense they must remain separate, devastating one or both (i.e., a reversal of the prior win).
  • Cozy Mystery: The expected breakthrough in the investigation never materializes, and sleuth is forced to take more risks to identify the actual killer (i.e., a reversal of the prior win).

☞PONDER

In this sequence of scenes, the protagonist ponders prior choices, goal dedication, self worth, and personal abilities. For example:

  • Romance: One lover or both debate their prior choices, trying to reconcile whether to try again.
  • Cozy Mystery: The sleuth reevaluates the progress to date, questioning whether to continue.

☞FACE-OFF

The scene includes a face-off between the opposing force and the lead character, brought on by that character’s prior choices. For example:

  • Romance: One lover confronts the opposing force.
  • Cozy Mystery: The sleuth confronts the most likely suspect.

☞BATTLE 2

In this sequence of scenes, the primary point-of-view character and the opposing force fight intensely, knowing only one will survive the second battle. The protagonist must go through this fight just like a butterfly must struggle to emerge from the cocoon. For example:

  • Romance: One conflict leads to another until a lover selflessly sacrifices for the benefit of the other.
  • Cozy Mystery: Through a series of events, the sleuth realizes things are not as they seem, bringing into focus, but not yet revealing the true identity of the actual killer.

☞CLIMAX

This scene concludes with the chief character achieving positive or negative results tied to both the story’s goal and the protagonist’s need, resulting in either a win/win, win/lose, lose/win, or lose/lose. For example:

  • Romance: The scene shows one lover or both realize a “need for love,” and they will stay together (i.e., the outcome is a win/win).
  • Cozy Mystery: The scene shows that because the individual accepted the “need to investigate,” the sleuth will solve the crime (i.e., the outcome is a win/win).

☞RESOLUTION

The last scene ties up loose ends and satisfies readers with the emotions they expect from the Changed World. For example:

  • Romance: The lover who sacrificed is rewarded.
  • Cozy Mystery: The criminal is brought to justice, and the lesson learned by sleuth sets up the continuation of the cozy mystery series.

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In the plot for your next story, what will happen? What dramatic questions do the events place in the minds of readers?

2 Comments

  1. That is–in the words of Michael Arndt–“insanely great”. Being a plotter, this fits me perfectly. What a lot of work you put into this. Sharing…

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