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Monday, May 20, 2013

Plot Structure

Picture Credit: http://gilshalev.com/2012/07/06/
This posting on plot structure will provide a rough outline of a book--it is not as detailed as the outlining process I use (see my outlining posting series here).

But sometimes it's helpful to take a step back and look at your book from a new way. Also, some people don't like to use an intense outlining method. The plot structure as seen here will give much flexibility while still providing a general direction for the story.

Consider your book to be a Three-Act Play. Each act should build off of the acts that come before and tension should steadily increase.

Act 1

Act 1 is for the setup. Characters are introduced along with the world they live in and the rules they must follow. But there is a hint of the fact that things are not what they appear to be. Something different is lurking on the horizon.

Act 2

Act 2 should introduce the new world. This does not necessarily mean the characters have to leave one place and travel to another. It does mean that the main character should be taken out of his or her comfort zone. Doing this will introduce a "world." The world can be problems, threats, new geography, or any other thing the character is up against. In this second act, the reader should become familiar with the nature of what the character is up against.

Act 3

Act 3 begins with a situation that leaves the character (and hopefully the reader) certain that all hope is lost. The ending can't possibly be happy. This situation will turn to the amazing way the character overcomes the problem. This will be the climax of the story. Then a little space is given at the end for the beginning of a return back to a lower excitement level. The little dip at the end is the promise of a "happily ever after."

Notice that in the diagram, even though the pacing and tension will increase throughout the story, it does not always increase at a constant rate. If your story plot structure can be mapped out in a straight line, your tension will begin to feel monotonous. Instead do little peaks and valleys as you work your way to a higher tension level.

If, after that general breakdown of 3 acts, you want to take your outlining to a slightly tighter level, try drawing a plot line for each chapter. Every chapter in the book should move the story in some way and should give the reader necessary information. If any chapter fails to do that, then either cut or re-think it.

Happy outlining!


  1. Oh that strange beast calling plotting. I have a habit of being 'fly by the seat of my pants' person which has lead to more than one unfortunate crash as I realized my book had nowhere to go! Hopefully these suggestions will help me avoid crashing again! =)

  2. I used to be all about flying by the seat of my pants. I never thought I'd be an outlining person. But a few years ago I attended a class on outlining and after it decided to outline my "already completed" manuscript. After outlining it, I realized my story had no point--none, whatsoever. I did a re-write that took the story in a new direction, and since then I've been all about outlining. :) I still do flexible outlines that change a little during the writing, but at least I have a map of where I'm going.