When it comes to writing, I’m a plotter. Actually, when it comes to most things I’m a plotter. I can’t understand how people write on the fly. How do you know where you’re going? I’ve always been a thinky person. Outside of writing I’m pretty sure I overthink, but behind the writing desk, there’s no such thing as overthinking. Thinking, for me, is the most time I spend on writing. I usually have a strong idea of what I want to happen in the story, and I build on it and build on it, while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, riding out a journey, half-watching something on the box, sometimes while talking to people (don’t tell people). Most of my writing happens in my head. All these ideas and beats are then gathered up and put in some order when I get some desk time.
When I sit down to put all these thoughts in order, my story structure is usually quite basic–establish the conflicts; work to a prologue, beginning, middle, end, epilogue; and ensuring characters progress or are in some way changed by the story. Then plot out each individual scene. I also write character bios and descriptions to refer to in the hope I won’t have sudden height changes, or changing eye colours! A while back though, at a convention, I heard some Star Trek writers talking about the 7 point story structure, and it struck me as being a much better framework to hang my plot on. It consists of a hook, 1st plot point, 1st pinch point, mid-point, 2nd plot point, 2nd pinch point, and conclusion. It doesn’t just apply to the whole overarching plot, but can apply to all the plot threads, and as many of the characters as you like that wind together to make the story whole.
1 Hook: the baited hook to keep the reader reading. Give incentive to read on. Make a thought-provoking statement. Pose an interesting question. Make a funny relatable comment.
See more, after the jump! (See what I did there?) 🙂 *hook*
2 First Plot Point: the event that causes the character to start their journey through the story. Something that, without this event, the story would not progress and the characters would continue their lives without this story. It could be an awakening, a decision, attraction, betrayal, loss, a mystery. It is inspiration, followed by resolution and or action.
3 First Pinch Point: the introduction of conflict, a hint or example of the risk the character and their goals could be in. It puts the mid-point at jeopardy.
4 Mid-Points: is the turn of events, the switch from reaction to action. The character finds motivation, strength, and decides a course of events.
5 Second Plot Point: builds the story further. The main character learns, and understands what’s been happening, what’s going to happen, what’s at stake, what needs to be done, to resolve the plot.
6 Second Pinch Point: a conflict that amps the tension, that wounds the character physically or emotionally, that causes doubt, that puts success at risk.
7 Conclusion: what the story leads to. The main confrontation. The big battle. The achievement–or failure–of what the characters have been working for. What the characters and world will be like at the end of the story.
It seems there are variations on this theme, with multiple plot points and pinch points, but this is the main structure. You can see it in a lot of stories once you’re familiar with it. Take Star Wars for instance. The Hook: Star Destroyer chasing the blockade runner (what a hook!), Vader makes his entrance, and the droids escape on a mysterious mission. First Plot Point: Luke’s aunt and uncle are killed, Luke’s plan of working the farm for another year then joining the (Imperial!) academy change and he vows to join Obi-Wan’s cause (the rebellion) and go to Alderaan with him. First Pinch Point: Luke and the gang are chased off Tatooine by the Empire. Stormtroopers firing (we’ve already seen what they can do, thanks to the blockade runner and Jawa massacre), and then THREE Star Destroyers giving pursuit (we’ve already seen what one can do to a bigger ship than the Falcon). Mid-Point: Alderaan (the focus of their mission) has been destroyed, the gang are captured on the Deathstar. Second Plot Point: Motivations shift to rescue the Princess! Second Pinch Point: Obi-Wan (the man who brought Luke into this big scary world only hours earlier, and was to be his mentor) is killed by Vader (leaving Luke truly alone), and Vader and the Empire’s terror and strength is reinforced. Conclusion: Luke joins the rebellion and attacks the Deathstar and blows it to bits.
The beats don’t all occur at the same time. Not every character enters the plot at the beginning of their story. In a New Hope, Luke is at the beginning of his journey, Vader is in his mid-point, while Obi-Wan’s story is going to reach its conclusion. Therefore there are multiple hooks, plot points, pinch points, and conclusions depending on the character and element of the plot. And with a New Hope, this is all within what is the first part of a trilogy–a New Hope has its main 7 point plot structure, and elements of it form the overarching 7 point plot structure of the original (and best…) trilogy.
With all this in mind I’ve had a good play with it on my latest project ‘The Darkwood Mysteries (13): The Ghosts of the Black Museum’. I did a 7 point plot structure for the characters of Darkwood, Inspector Duggan, and a new reoccurring character, Miss Reuben. And then lined them up next to one another in a table. Spoilers… Reuben has her (rather nasty) conclusion, and fails; Duggan has his conclusion and fails; both of which contribute as 2nd pinch points within the plot, ramping up the threat for the good guys, and then Darkwood is able to ride in and have her conclusion and is able to be the hero where others have fallen–serving as conclusion for the story as a whole.
It took some getting used to, but producing a table (yeah, I made a table–told you I’m thinky) and lining up all the plot points was useful. I could see how in some projects a characters 2nd pinch point might occur in the first half of the plot if they perhaps aren’t going to be in it until the end, and if a character joins mid-way their 1st pinch point will happen later (and the rest of their story–whatever that might be–will happen outside of the story as a whole, because the main story is told). This means I had a collection of beats to work from, and by the time my table was populated I had character arcs, story arcs, and an order for all the scenes I had to write. 15 in all. I’ve already written 5 of these and feel much more confident in the direction of my story and have some nice references for myself when I’m not. I’ll definitely be using this again.