Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Easy Plotting for Pantsers and Plotters Alike

Yesterday my friend Liz posted this helpful template about how to use Dan Wells's 7 Point Plot System in addition to, or instead of, the Save the Cat Beat Sheet for Novels.

The behind the scenes look at that post is Liz and I (or Liz and Liz if I refer to myself in third person) are obsessed with plotting. We'll dissect a favorite movie, book, or TV show for hours on end. I do it because I like analyzing things and I suck at plot, and Liz does it because she sees the structure of a novel first. The end result is we've spent countless hours breaking down the 7 Point Plot System and Save the Cat so you don't have to. 

Liz mentioned in her post using the 7 Point Plot System to hammer out a basic plot before you start writing, and I can tell you it's awesome for that. It's quick and dirty. You just fill in what you think happens in the story and press on with the business of actually writing the darned thing.

Here is a reference guide so you don't have to keep looking at the outline on Liz's post:

The 7 Point Plot System

The beginning. The mirror image of the end.

Turn 1
Introduces conflict and bridges the gap between the Hook and the Midpoint.

Pinch 1
Something bad happens.

Bridges the gap between the Hook and the Resolution.

Pinch 2
Something even worse happens.

Turn 2
Bridges the gap between Midpoint and End.

The climax. Everything in the story leads to this moment.

If like me, you want a short outline before you start writing, you can fill in some vague thoughts and start typing. Or if you're pantsing the entire book from start to finish with nary a character sheet, you can fill in events as you go. The beauty of doing that is you'll start thinking about the next major plot event ahead of time. "Okay, well, I just hit the Midpoint, so the next major event should be Pinch 2: Something Even Worse Happens".

But the fun doesn't stop there! I use the 7 Point Plot System to check the fiddly bits of my plot too, not just the entire kit and caboodle. Let's say you have a romance as a subplot. You can take just the events of your novel that relate to the romance, and use the 7 Point Plot System to check how it progresses. 

The application for this is endless. I've plotted out the relationship between the main character and the antagonist, the love interest, important secondary characters--any character relationships that I needed to see the progression of. I've plugged in just the action bits, the arc that leads to the betrayal, anything I felt would be important to track all the way through my novel. It's especially awesome if you have more than one point of view character. You can track their character arcs and have a quick and simple way of keeping track of what they are doing in the book and when.

Obviously you should only plot out what you feel like you need to know. If doing three separate 7 Point Plot Systems for your character makes you want to curl into the fetal position, uncurl. Take a deep breath. This is simply a tool for you to use as you need. 

I can tell you though, working out the smaller pieces has really helped me see the inner cogs of the plot. If you see that the betrayal, romance, and action parts all share the exact same three events, then you can really amp those scenes up with focused purpose. It can help you spot plot holes a mile away, and also give you a clue how to fix those same holes. 

It also helps with pacing. I've noticed that if all but two of points happen within the first forty pages, I've obviously front loaded the book. Same thing happened with all but one of the event happened after the midpoint.

Another way to approach this is in revision. All the stuff I talked about tracking you can hold off until you're done writing the novel. Rather than trying to read through your manuscript a bajillion (bajillion is a word, I swear) times, you can simply keep track of the important arcs of the story using that nifty guide.

Something else Liz and I discussed was using the 7 Point Plot System for a series. Are you plotting a gigantic epic fantasy series? Of course you are. Who isn't? You can check to see if your entire series is progressing in a coherent fashion by plugging in the important events. Book one might just be the Hook, and book two could cover the first Turn and Pinch.  It would be a handy little reference guide to stick in your series bible, that's for sure.

If you would like specific examples, click on the link to Liz's post at the beginning of this post. Liz plotted out the musical Wicked in both the 7 Point Plot System and Save the Cat beat sheet. She's also linked to Dan Wells's Youtube series explaining the 7 Point Plot System in great detail, as well as uploaded the place you can download the slides from his presentation.

If you have any questions or need clarification on something, don't hesitate to ask. Also, if you find another use for this, let me know! I love finding new ways to plot.  


  1. This is fantastic, and I use beats all the time (I just never knew it). I like having it laid out though because it gives me a better way to lay it all out. Maybe I should try story boarding too.

  2. I'll have to come back and read this more in-depth when I have more brain capacity/focus. I'm very unfocused these days.

  3. Rena: If you can't do this before you write the book, it's always a good way to focus your writing before revision.

    Linda: LMAO I know the feeling!

  4. Thank you so much for this. I have always been told to write and i love words. I just didn't know how. This is great. Again thank you.