Credit Where Due
Yay, a writing craft post!
So -I- heard about this from the Writing Excuses podcast (which I strongly recommend as audio fodder during commutes).
Dan Wells, the host who is well-known for introducing it, credits the Star Trek RPG Narrator’s Guide for it.
I used this nice article from The Gryphon Clerks for a goodly chunk of my research.
Most of this is going to sound super duper familiar to you writer types out there, so instead of laying it out in story-chronological order (which is very easy to find) I’m going to lay it out as if we’re planning a story together.
Sound like fun? OF COURSE IT DOES!
Feel free to ignore my silly example and insert a story you’re currently working (or in my case struggling) with.
This method will make Plotters happy. Pantsers will probably scoff and do a trendy hair-flip move. Maybe even a z-snap. That’s totally fine. Do what works for YOU, not what you hear other people preaching.
That being said, I’m a Plotter through and through. Also, researching things and trying new techniques makes may happy centers light up with fireworks.
Step 1: Resolution
Yup. We are going to start at the end.
In what state does your story end?
Think plot. Think character. Think state or action.
My random example will be … um …
Resolution: Princess Pepper defeats Princess Petunia in the Princess Academy Baking Competition.
… You didn’t really expect anything else from me, did you? Nope, I didn’t think so. Moving on.
Step 2: Hook
Yay, bouncing around. Aaaallll the way back to the beginning.
So, now that you know where you’re going, let’s figure out where you start.
The key here is to base this on your ending state. If your character ends powerful, maybe they start weak (a character growth arc). Or if they start out being strong already, maybe they become a different kind of strong by the end (a character shift arc).
Whatever it is, you should see significant change between the resolution and the hook.
Hook: Pauper Pepper Drudges in a Dreary Inn.
Step 3: Midpoint
The “midpoint” is the BIG shift in the storytelling. The main character goes from reacting to things to making a conscious decision to be active.
Midpoint: Princess Pepper Enters the Princess Academy Baking Competition.
Step 4: Plot Turn 1
I like the term “Plot Turn” more than “Plot Point” because it’s more descriptive. It’s not just a clue, it’s something that actively changes the story.
Let’s take a step back, chronologically speaking. This happens after the Hook but before the Midpoint. (don’t worry, I’ll lay out the chronological order at the bottom of the blog post)
Plot Turn 1 is when something changes that puts things in motion. New ideas. New people. This is the Call To Adventure. In other writing guides, I’d probably call this the Inciting Incident.
Plot Turn 1: Fairy Fernando Informs Pauper Pepper Of her Princesstude and Whisks Her Away to the Princess Academy For Training.
Step 5: Plot Turn 2
Zooming right past the Midpoint, let’s look at the second big plot turn.
This is the moment the character receives that last and oh-so-important THING they need in order to create the resolution.
In a mystery, maybe it’s the final clue that leads them to the real villain. In an adventure, maybe it’s the final magical thingamabooby needed to defeat the villain. In a romance, maybe it’s the realization that he loved her all along.
Plot Turn 2: Princess Pepper Finds the Magic Spell Necessary to Grow the Elusive Eisenberry To Use In Her Prizewinning Pie.
Step 6: Pinch Point 1
*scoots you all back to the first half of the book*
Pinch Point 1 happens after Plot Turn 1 but BEFORE the Midpoint.
Something goes wrong that forces the character to solve a problem.
Smart writers will realize this is a great way to get the villain involved early! (And we are all smart writers here). Don’t just have some random thing go wrong — see if you can make it a direct influence of your villain.
Pinch Point 1: Princess Petunia Replaces Princess Pepper’s Sweet Cherries with Sour CherryBombs, Causing Princess Pepper to Become Unpopular.
(Look, I realize this is getitng nutty, but I’ve come this far and I’m not backing out of my ridiculous, off-the-cuff example NOW.)
Step 7: Pinch Point 2
You’ll be happy to note this is the final step.
Chronology-wise, this is after the midpoint but before the second Plot Turn.
Something goes VERY wrong. (Much more so than in Pinch 1). These are the jaws of defeat from which victory must be grasped. I lovingly know this story beat as “The Darkest Night”. Things look their worst.
Mentors die or vanish. Allies prove unreliable. Plans fail.
(Again, this should be directly related to the villain.)
Pinch Point 2: Princess Petunia Blackmails Prince Paulie Into Sabotaging Princess Pepper’s Baking Stove, Even Though Pepper is His Best Friend.
From the reader’s perspective, the events unfold thusly:
- Plot Point 1
- Pinch Point 1
- Pinch Point 2
- Plot Point 2
Our silly story, put together in order, looks a little something like this:
- Pauper Pepper Drudges in a Dreary Inn.
- Fairy Fernando Informs Pauper Pepper Of her Princesstude and Whisks Her Away to the Princess Academy For Training.
- Princess Petunia Replaces Princess Pepper’s Sweet Cherries with Sour CherryBombs, Causing Princess Pepper to Become Unpopular.
- Princess Pepper Enters the Princess Academy Baking Competition.
- Princess Petunia Blackmails Prince Paulie Into Sabotaging Princess Pepper’s Baking Stove, Even Though Pepper is His Best Friend.
- Princess Pepper Finds the Magic Spell Necessary to Grow the Elusive Eisenberry To Use In Her Prizewinning Pie.
- Princess Pepper defeats Princess Petunia in the Princess Academy Baking Competition.
Why Plot Them Out of Order?
For me, outlining and plotting is all about tentpoles. The Hook depends on the Resolution. The midpoint is determined by both the Hook and the Resolution.
And not until those three pillars are up can I figure out what all the stuff in the middle is.
Granted, this was a silly example, but while I wrote it I also found out who my villain was and who two side characters (Prince Paulie and Fairy Fernando) are. I don’t know how Pepper finds that magic spell or what an Eisenberry is, but I DO know that I need to figure that stuff out now and figure out where else to sprinkle it through the book.
Plots and Subplots
The fun thing is that you can use this same structure to make sure you have these points for each of your subplots.
So sure, maybe the main plotline revolves around that baking competition, but Pepper’s friendship with Paulie could also use those same ups and downs in storytelling. I’ve already intertwined the Second Plot Turn for both subplots (which is a neat trick and you should use it as often as you can).
If you’re interested, try it out! See if it works for you.
And let me know your results, I’d love to know if it was helpful!