Writer. Adventurer. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a series of steampunk novels and short stories.

The Big Five Plot Points

When I am beginning a new story, the first thing I do is put The Big Five Plot Points in stone. Everything else is subject to early-morning and late-night improvisation. I have found if I keep these key points in mind, it helps me generate more story-relevant content because I am writing towards a shorter goal than the Final Confrontation.

Here are The Big Five Plot Points that I use:

1. Inciting Action – This is the event that starts your story in motion. Sometimes you need to start writing a bit in front of it (but not too far in front of it) to give some context. Also, this is the only time that I let a coincidence happen in my story. (Ann Crispin said in a writer’s workshop I attended that the audience will forgive one instance of coincidence that starts or continues a story. She’s the expert, so I go with it.)
Example: Guy has fight with Wife before business trip (context). Goes to airport. While thinking about the fight (makes context relevant), switches suitcase with Dastardly Villain (coincidence and inciting action).

2. Answering the Call / Point of No Return – This is when the main character (MC) makes a choice that pushes the story forward and from which there is no turning back. The MC cannot give up, go home, and have life return to normal. I also try to incorporate the first plot twist here.
Ex: The authorities become suspicious of Guy’s suitcase when he lands in {exotic location}. Instead of surrendering the suitcase (and returning to his normal life), Guy runs (point of no return) due to a lifelong distrust of law enforcement (relevant character backstory). After an exciting chase, Guy escapes and opens the suitcase. He discovers that he has the wrong suitcase; his suitcase is full of {widgets} (plot twist #1).

3. Great Big Midpoint Plot Twist – Make sure that life for the MC is not pleasant as we reach this point. Come up with something big for the middle of the story that turns everything on its ear. Raise the stakes whenever you can by putting the MC’s life or reputation on the line, or by setting/shortening a deadline.
Ex: He ditches his phone to avoid dastardly villain’s goons. When he later calls Wife, she accuses him of having an affair because he has not returned her calls. Because he is on the run from the authorities and goons, Guy does not attend big meeting and gets fired. Villain contacts the MC and says he has kidnapped the MC’s Wife! (plot twist #2 and raising the stakes)

4. The Darkest Hour – The MC struggles on, maybe achieving a small win, but mainly experiencing more setbacks. This is the cruelest point of all, testing the character to the very core. To overcome this, the MC needs to dig deep and use some character trait that is unique to the MC.
Ex: Guy plans to exchange the suitcase of {widgets} for Wife, but loses it to the authorities. Through some exciting escapades, he retrieves the suitcase by impersonating an accountant (MC’s profession before he was fired) and conning the authorities. It is now time to rendezvous with Villain. Guy hands over suitcase, but then Wife reveals she has fallen in love with Dastardly Villain. Guy has now lost everything (darkest hour and plot twist #3).

5. The Grand Finale – Ramp everything up to the final showdown. Everything is on the line, and this is when either the MC or the villain will win. Paint that big scene on the rain-slick precipice of {iconic locale} under ominous weather conditions in all its glory. This is what you have been working for!
Ex: Plotting his revenge and plans to win back with wife, MC uses {unique characteristics} gained from {backstory}. After epic showdown, MC defeats Villain, wins back Wife (or maybe he doesn’t and instead finds new-and-improved love), and keeps {widgets}. (There is often an epilogue showing the MC in his new normal life)

Disclaimer: I am not a professional, yet, but I listen to a lot of people who are. Don’t try this at home, kids!

One comment on “The Big Five Plot Points

  1. Pingback: Big Five Plot Points… for Short Stories | tracycembor

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This entry was posted on January 9, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .

Posting Schedule for 2014-15

Monday through Friday I will be posting about writing as business and craft, the science of creativity, all things steampunk, and progress on The Dreamless City.

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About the Author

Tracy Cembor attempts to juggle a preschooler and a baby, a full-time job, random geekery, and the writing life. Currently working on The Dreamless City, a steampunk urban fantasy novel. Come join the adventure.
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