I recently began a monthly Twitter event beginning the last week of each month called #WritingwithRae where I share topics on the writing craft. The first topic is my favorite outlining technique call the Seven Point Plot Structure:
- Plot Turn 1
- Pinch 1
- Pinch 2
- Plot Turn 2
- Resolution/Falling Action
Many pantsers believe plotting stifles creative juices, but plotting is a great way to prevent writer’s block while still allowing flexibility for those who need it. The outline is just the skeleton–how you add the muscle is up to you! Outlines are blueprints or roadmaps. Having one keeps you in the right direction. It doesn’t mean you can’t deviate. Brilliant ideas do not come to us simultaneously. Let your outline be freeing and elastic.
The first Plot Point to outline is the Climax/Resolution. THIS is what your story is about; it all leads to this moment. This is where the plot and characters collide to form the end of the story. The hero fights through the climax and either wins or looses. Either way the conflict is resolved. The resolution is a series of small scenes showing how the world has changed after the conflict.
After outlining the Climax and Resolution, move onto the Hook. You know where your story is going, now it’s time to figure out where your story starts. The trick to figuring out your hook is to move from the opposite state from where your story ends. For example, a selfless character at the end may begin as a selfish character in the beginning. This provides an arc throughout the plot.
Your hook sets up the hero in his/her ordinary life. This is the moment before the story begins, the scene that occurs right before the inciting incident and the hero’s immediate reaction.
The second part of your hook reveals the conflict, the problem disrupting this ordinary life. You should plan your hero’s reaction to this conflict, the action the hero takes thereafter, and the consequences of that action.
After outlining the Hook, move onto the Midpoint. This is the center of two states—where your characters moves from reaction to action. The Midpoint is usually (not always) in the middle of Act II (if the Act I, II, III structure works for you). The protagonist usually receives new information that changes his or her perception of the conflict.
This new perspective changes his or her commitment in the struggle against the antagonist. On the flipside, the protagonist could gain a broader understanding of the danger involved and his or her motivation for achieving his or her objectives may turn.
The protagonist’s experiences inside the “new world” builds up into a crisis. At this point in the story the hero no longer reacts, but becomes proactive—there is a reversal in action.
After outlining the Midpoint, it’s time to outline the First Plot Turn. The part of the story moves from the beginning to the midpoint and introduces the conflict. The first Plot Turn might also be known as the “Call to Adventure” or the “Confronting of New Ideas.” The hero might meet new people or make new discoveries. Alice’s decision to follow the White Rabbit is an excellent example of the First Plot Turn.
The hero’s life is disrupted by the conflict, thus a change in trajectory begins. This usually begins the end of Act I. The hero will have to chooses to engage or not.
Next we outline the Second Plot Turn. Similar to the first Plot Turn, the second Plot Turn moves your hero from the midpoint of the story to the end. The hero must obtain the final piece of the puzzle in order to succeed. This is where they receive the last element in moving their success from TRYING to DOING.
Most times the second Plot Turn involves the hero finding the power within, even if he or she doesn’t know it, and then taking action. The hero grasps victory in the jaws of defeat.
It’s time now to outline the First Pinch. This is the event that forces the character(s) into action. In the first Pinch peace comes to an end. Something goes wrong and it’s usually because the bad guys attack. Many times the villain, or his or her influence, is introduced in the first Pinch Point. The hero’s life changes due to the consequences and pressure is applied.
To get the best use of your first Pinch Point, escalate the conflict and force your protagonist to make tough choices. If the hero wants to achieve his or her objective he or she must engage. This is the first crisis your hero encounters within the “new world” and it’s build up leads to the Midpoint of your novel.
At last we outline the Second Pinch. This is right before the story’s central conflict. The full weight of the pressure rests on your characters and hopelessness sets in. Plans fail, mentors die, and bad guys win. All seems to be lost.
Defeat is hurdling toward your hero like a torpedo and the hero experiences his or her “darkest moment.” Despite this, or because of this, the protagonist pushes forward. Your hero has no way out, but through the complications, through the consequences, and through the escalations. At times the second Pinch is bittersweet, as often there is a price to pay.
And that’s it! Once your outline is put in order you can work on your world building, round out your characters, and thread in your subplots. If you want to go more in depth with your understanding of this outlining technique, Dan Wells, American horror and science fiction writer, did a lecture that can be found as a five-part series on YouTube. I highly encourage you to check it out! You can find it here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC430F6A783A88697