7 Plot Points To Story Perfection:
The seven point plot structure is a method of outlining used by Dan Wells, author of I Am Not A Serial Killer. This system is a starting point to flesh out your story. Wells derived this method from a Star Trek RPG book. Novelist and screenwriters both use this method.
The seven points consist of the following items:
- Hook – Establishes current state of character; the beginning.
- Plot Turn 1 – Call to action/adventure.
- Pinch 1 – Apply pressure to hero; force them to act.
- Midpoint – Hero moves from reaction to action.
- Pinch 2 – Apply more pressure to hero; things appear hopeless.
- Plot Turn 2 – Hero gets the last thing needed to help them resolve the problem.
- Resolution – The problem is resolved.
Note: These are not the only 7 things that happen in your story. This is a skeleton, scaffolding that you will build the rest of your narrative around.
Have A Story In Mind
Before you dive into figuring out your 7 plot points, you need to have an idea for a story. You don’t need to have everything figured out, you can start from a loose idea. This plot structure is intended to help bring out your story. You are in the development phase where you’ll begin giving structure to the ideas swimming in your imagination.
What Is The Major Conflict?
What’s the general problem that is occurring in your story? At this point you just need a general idea of what issue is plaguing your fictional world. For fun let’s make up a story on the fly. Let’s say a fire-breathing dragon is terrorizing a farming town.
What Is The Setting?
Where is your story taking place? What time? What geographic location? Also, what genre do you feel your story falls within? For our story let’s say this is taking place in a valley within a kingdom, surrounded by large mountains during medieval times. This will be a classic fantasy story.
Who Are The Characters?
Now that you know your major conflict and the setting, you’ll need to identify your protagonist and antagonist—the hero and villain. What person in your story world would be uniquely impacted by this overall problem? Who would have the most to lose if the problem isn’t solved? Who has the biggest incentive to act? Answering these questions leads you to discover your protagonist.
For our story example let’s say a teenage boy returned home from his schooling in the heart of the kingdom to man the family farm while his father recovers from an injury. Let’s say he fell of a horse and suffered a broken leg. In addition, livestock has been disappearing and the townsfolk have been battling fires that spring up in the middle of the night out of nowhere.
With your protagonist figured out it’s time to shift your focus to the villain. What character in your story world would benefit from the overall problem? How would this person oppose and want to prevent your hero from resolving the issue at hand?
Who should we choose as a villain for our example story? Who would benefit from a dragon snatching up livestock and causing fires that destroy crops of the local farmers. Let’s say there’s a sorcerer who’s been banished from the kingdom for his nefarious acts, usually involving dead things, and has been living in the mountains in exile. He discovers a way to create food from “magic” and figures he can feed the kingdom and profit from trades with other towns selling this magic food, while also providing an endless supply of rations for the army.
Hey, this is a fantasy story. We don’t need to worry about how any of this will work yet, we’re just laying down a foundation.
More Villainy, More Problems
The problem this villain faces is that this kingdom is very superstitious and views magic as demonic sorcery, why he was kicked out in the first place. Plus with a supportive network of local farms, the kingdom has no need to use this magic food. This villain finds and tames a dragon. No, he finds the remains of dragon, the beast people have long thought to be extinct, and brings it back to life with black magic. The sorcerer uses it to snatch up livestock and burn crops, resulting in there being a food shortage in the kingdom.
And what do you know…this sorcerer has the perfect solution….magic food! If our hero is intent to solve the problem with the dragon, he will undermine the villains entire enterprise. He’ll want to prevent the boy from finding the dragon’s lair, and connecting the sorcerer to any of it.
There we go. We have a hero and a villain.
Start At The End
Before you can start you need to know where you’re going. Imagine the culmination of this conflict between your two main characters. How does it end? How is the problem resolved? Is it a happy ending for your hero? A sad ending? Everything in your story will be leading to this point. Don’t worry about how you’ll get there. Just figure out what the end will be, later in the development process we will figure the details out. For now, just map out what you have in mind for your story’s resolution. An example: farm boy slays dragon and exposes sorcerer as mastermind behind the nefarious scheme.
Go Back To The Beginning
Once you know where you’re going, you need to go back and figure out how to start your story. If you were planning a trip you’d first identify your destination. With the end goal in sight you’d then determine whether you’d hop on the interstate in your automobile, head to the train station, or take a shuttle to the airport.
For your story you must figure out where your character begins their journey. All stories are about change. If your main character is not progressing throughout the dramatic events of your story your audience will get bored. A simple yet powerful way to ensure you have an arc of progression built into your narrative is to start with the opposite state of your resolution.
Say your story ends with a farm boy slaying the dragon, your beginning could be a scene where the boy returns home from his schooling and is sent on some errands. While walking down an alley he’s cornered by a growling dog. He calls out for help like a coward, and a young woman appears. It’s the daughter of the local merchant. They’ve trained their dog to be aggressive because local livestock have gone missing and “arsons” have been starting fires. Some people think it’s mercenaries camping in the mountains, but some people think it’s a mythical beast. The boy scoffs at talks of mythical creatures. He doesn’t even believe in them.
See. That’s a lot of story we just made up in a minute or so. It’s a great start!
Remember To Have Fun
Don’t put to much pressure on yourself at this point. Notate the essence of the character’s beginning state if that’s all you can muster. If a scene isn’t sparked in your mind that is alright. Remember, this is the development phase. You are not locked into any of these decisions, you can always change them later. This exercise is intended to get your mind thinking about the story, allowing your subconscious to work on it. If you don’t have a clear scene now, just write down the ideas that come to you and over the development process you’ll discovery the best way to dramatize it.
Knowing your beginning and end it’s now time to focus on the middle. There are typically two types of midpoints you see in stories. The first is what the late great Blake Snyder refers to as a false peak. This is when our character accomplishes something big, but this brief victory backfires on them. The second type of middle, as described by Snyder, is when the hero fails miserable and it seems like everything has falling apart and there’s no hope at recovery. You’ll need to decide whether this moment of your story is a false peak, or a false downer.
In terms of our dragon story, I’ve got this idea that the hero and his crew discover the cave of the dragon, and even find the beast sleeping during the middle of the day. Our dragon will be a nocturnal one. Realizing they discovered the dragon and can likely trap it or kill it while it sleeps, this seems like a win. But when leaving the dragon cave our hero and his crew are apprehended by some knights. The king sent them in secret to check out the stories of a living dragon, and now these knights think the hero and his crew are the culprits that have been letting it loose and controlling it via black magic. They will be taking to the kingdom for trial. But as their being arrested the knights discover that the dragon has laid and egg which hatched. The dragon’s had a baby.
Now remember at this point we may be worried about plot holes, and this not making sense. Heck, who is our farm boys “crew”? Who knows, we’ll make that up later. Remember this is just the framework, we fill it in and sort out that other stuff later.
Plot Turn 1
At it’s most fundamental level the first plot point moves you from the beginning to the midpoint of your story. Here the conflict is introduced. The character’s world changes. They meet new people. Discover new secrets. This is where the call to adventure happens.
For our story the boy could be walking in the moonlight remembering his dead mother when the silhouette of a dragon passes over the moon. The town is attacked and a fire is started. The boy helps put out the fire, but it results in the local bartender losing his place of business.
When the ash settles there’s a town meeting about how to deal with the dragon problem. Here people voice their opinions about what should be done. A handful of farmers vow to find the dragon and slay it. The mayor offers a reward to find the dragon’s lair. Our hero decides not to join the group, deciding to stay and care for his father. The merchant, father of the pretty girl who saved our farm boy from the dog, joint the group as the leader. He’s an old knight with a history of heroics on the battlefield of days yonder. Back at the farm, we could add a scene where the boy’s father appreciates his son staying behind to care for him, but tells his son that there’s more than this little old farm. That’s why his father worked so hard, it was his mother’s dream to see him escape the life of a mere farm boy. The boy ponders over this. But still remains behind.
Plot Turn 2
The second plot turn moves the story from the midpoint to the end. At this point the hero determines he must do something. He makes the decision to solve the problem once and for all. Determined to bring things to their end, the hero identifies a new strategy to resolve the pressing conflict. The resolution is where the problem is solved. Plot Turn 2 is where the hero obtains the final thing, an item or piece of information, that allows them to make resolution happen.
The sorcerer bookers a deal to sell his magic food to the kingdom in light of the lost crops of the farms. He sent the dragon to attack the wagons taking our hero to prison, because he didn’t want anyone to have the egg fragments which he knew could harm his dragon. He goes to the kingdom and reports that our hero and his farmer friends are the culprits who control the dragon and even accuses them of killing the knights to escape their imprisonment.
The result is the hero becomes a wanted man along with his buddies. While they return to the mountains and begins making weapons, a contingent of soldiers attack him and his friends. Here his mentor, a the merchant girl’s father, is killed and the rest of his team are arrested again. The hero barely gets away but he has the only egg forged blade they were able to make.
The first pinch is where we apply some pressure to the character, motivating them to take action. The bad guys attack. The peaceful life of the hero is destroyed, something tragic happens and the hero must put things right. This is also a good place to introduce our villain.
After being considered a hero after helping stop the fire at the bartender’s place. The boy gets a date with the local merchant girl. While enjoying a moonlight picnic on the roof of the store the dragon appears again and sets fire to edge of the town. Running across the town, the boy realizes his father’s farm has been engulfed in flames. The flames have reached the farmhouse and he’s father is still inside, groggy from pain medication and barely mobile with his broken leg. The boy jumps into the house and saves his father as his home comes crashing down. At this point our hero decides to join the other farmers in tracking down the dragon and slaying it. He is compelled to act now.
Meanwhile the evil sorcerer rides into town offering his magic food at a steep price, taking economic advantage of the situation. He also offers various fire proofing magic goods. He’s like a charlatan but he’s creating a demand for his magic products. People line up at his cart to buy stuff. He also mocks the men who go to search for the dragon.
At the second pinch we apply even more pressure on the hero, this is the point where everything seems helpless. Let’s say our hero’s been arrested and is being transported to the main kingdom when the dragon comes out and wrecks havoc. Our knights shoot arrows at the dragon as it passes them overhead. The dragon goes on attack and sets fires to the wagons.
Our boy and his crew are able to escape. The dragon circles back around and lands and swallows a few knights. Our hero grabs some dragon egg fragments and throws them at the ravenous creature, a futile effort but he’s desperate while facing certain death. Remarkably, the dragon egg fragment penetrates the dragon’s scales and the dragon howls in pain. Unfortunately, it also turns to our hero and decides to unleash a stream of fire directly at him. In panic he raises another egg fragment like a shield and it deflects the fire. He stands there amazed.
His friends begin tossing egg fragments at the dragon and it flies away howling in pain. Our hero realizes how to take down the dragon, fashion weapons out of the dragon egg.
Things Get Worse
Him and his crew take the wagon to a local blacksmith to aid in the making of said weapons. Along the way there are shunned, nobody will give them water or sell them food. While there at the blacksmith’s, a boy delivers the news that a contingent of knights are riding toward them, they are fugitives wanted for the murder or the knights killed by the dragon. The knights have been lead to believe they used the dragon to aid in there escape. They are wanted dead, the king and his knights believe by killing the source of the black magic, the dragon(s) will also die.
Order Out Of Chaos
There you have it. We’ve completed our outline of our story. Since we did everything out of order let’s recap everything in it’s proper sequence so we can see how our story is flowing.
- Hook: Farm boy returns home to help his injured father. He is cornered and scared by a harmless guard dog, only to be saved by the pretty merchant’s daughter. He hears rumors of a dragon causing the fires and reports of missing livestock that have recently plagued the town, but scoffs at the idea that a long extinct beast is the source of the problems.
- Plot Turn 1: Walking at night a strong wind comes from nowhere and the boy see’s the Dragon fly overhead. The dragon blows fire onto one of the town buildings, erupting it into flame. The dragon flies away, and the boy runs into town. He helps put out the fire. When the ash settles the next day a group of farmers vow to find and slay the dragon for a reward. Our farm boy refuses to join the group, citing the need to take care of his father.
- Pinch 1: Due to his swift action helping to put out the fire, our farm boy wins a date with the merchant’s daughter. The have a picnic under the moonlight atop the general store. The dragon appears again and sets flame to the forest across the river, while plucking a few deer to eat. Convinced the fire is not at risk to cross the river into his father’s land, the boy stays with the girl and enjoys a romantic romp. Elated and heading home the boy realizes that the winds allowed the fire to cross the river and set flame to the crops on his family farm. The flames have reached the farm house. The boy runs into his home and finds his father unconscious at the bottom of the stairs, he drags him out of the home just as it collapses. The boy decides to join the other farmers in their hunt for the beast.
- Midpoint: After an eventful journey up the mountain the boy and his crew discover the dragon’s cave. They cautiously enter and find the dragon sleeping. They retreat and make plans to trap the dragon in the cave. A band of knights arrive and arrest the boy and his friends. They received a tip that a group of local farmers were controlling the dragon for financial gain. The boy argues for their innocence but the knights discover a baby dragon, one the boy and his friends didn’t see. The knights think the boy tried to deceive them and take them into custody. They take the baby dragon and plan to return to slay the mama dragon after getting some of the king’s personal sorcerers.
- Pinch 2: While being transported as prisoners along with the baby dragon and the egg it snatched from, considered a valuable artifact, the mama dragon attacks the caravan. The knights shoot arrows at the beast but they simply deflect off the scales of the creature. The boy and his friends escape from their cell wagon and hide as the dragon lands and bites a couple knights in half. The boy looks for a weapon, in a feeble attempt to defend himself. Desperate he grabs some of the dragon egg fragments. He throws it at the dragon. Crazily, the egg fragment pierces the dragons scales and wounds the creature causing it to howl in pain. The dragon turns toward the farm boy and blows a stream of fire his direction. The boy dives behind a larger piece of the egg fragment and is shielded from the flames to his surprise. The boy grabs a bunch of egg fragments from under his feet and hurls them at the dragon. The beast yelps in pain and flies away with it’s baby in it’s grip.
- Plot Turn 2: The hero and his buddies gather as much egg fragment they can and pile it into one of the salvaged wagons and head off to meet with the local blacksmith to fashion tools out of the material. The next morning the blacksmith shows off a new shield and blade. As the men get to work forging more weapons a band of knights surround the grounds. The sorcerer lied to the king’s court and reported that the farmers controlled the dragon and used it to kill the knights that were transferring them to prison. The farmers are now wanted fugitives considered armed and dangerous and wanted dead. The sorcerer informed the king’s court that killing the source of the black magic controlling the dragon, would kill the dragon as well. The fact the farmers took up the weapons of the dead soldiers from the last dragon attack makes them look absolutely guilty. These knights are there to take no prisoners. The two sides fight, during the mayhem the elder farmer gives the farm boy the egg shield and sword and helps him escape. This is the merchant girl’s father, he tells the boy to take care of his daughter. The boy escapes but when looking back he sees the elder farmer get killed by the knights. The boy runs toward the dragon cave determined as ever.
- Resolution: At the dragon cave the boy slays the injured dragon with his egg sword but then must fight the sorcerer who sicks the baby dragon on him while using sorcery to lob explosives at the boy. He must dodge the explosives and fight off the baby dragon. Our farm boy succeeds and injures the sorcerer. The Knights arrive having witnessed the sorcerer confess resulting in his arrest.
Finally, the 7 Point Plot System put to work.
We have the basis for our story. We have something to work with and a framework that will allow us to dig deeper and better shape our story as we continue down the development path. This is just step one, but it sets the foundation for your entire story.