Today we get to my current favorite method of plotting, Dan Wells’ 7 Point System. (Disclaimer – I call it the Dan Wells system, but he says he shamelessly pilfered it from the Star Trek RPG book) I love this system because it gives me enough detail to keep writing and not get stuck wondering what happens next, but it leaves me enough room when I think of fabulous things I just have to add in. Best of all, it’s just as easy to plot your subplots with this system as well.
I first saw this presented as a series of videos on YouTube . The 5 of them take just under an hour, so once you’re done here, go watch them. And while I’m linking to things, Dan Wells has written a YA trilogy that my son and his girlfriend both like (they’re 13), starting with I Am Not a Serial Killer .
So, on to plotting. The seven points are:
- Plot Turn 1
- Pinch 1
- Pinch 2
- Plot Turn 2
- Ice Monster Prologue (OK, so this is optional, but can be used effectively)
You don’t develop your plot this way, though. Here’s the order you work in:
- Resolution – This is the climax, not the denouement. Everything leads up to this point and you need to know what happens here, and whether it’s plot-based, external conflict or whether it’s character-based internal conflict.
- Hook – This is the opposite state of the resolution, automatically creating an arc of progress. You must get your readers invested in the story with your hook or risk them putting your book down after the first few pages and never buying another written by you.
- Midpoint – This is where your characters move from reaction to action. They realize they need to change something, fix something, make something happen. In a mystery, it’s where the sleuth takes the case.
- Plot Turn 1 – Introduction to the conflict. The character’s world changes through meeting new people, a call to adventure, confronting a new idea, learning secrets – whatever you want.
- Plot Turn 2 – Here your character obtains the final thing to do the thing he must in the Resolution. How’s that for vague? It’s the last piece of the puzzle before he can move on to victory. It could be realizing “the power is in you”, or grasping victory from the jaws of defeat. Your character may not even realize he has everything he needs at this time, too.
- Pinch 1 – A pinch is when something goes horribly wrong and forces your characters into action. Often the villain is introduced here. The bad guys attack, peace is destroyed, someone is put into serious danger. Your characters surmount this problem using powers they already have, to help them prepare for bigger conflicts later on.
- Pinch 2 – Here you add more pressure until the situation seems hopeless for your characters. Their first plan can fail, their mentor could die, the villain seems to win. You are putting your characters into the jaws of defeat – make sure the teeth are pointy! Their victory cannot be easy or the reader will feel cheated.
Phew! That’s a lot of pain for your characters. But wait, there’s more! Every novel should have at least two try/fail cycles to make sure the victories are hard-won. Readers love hard-won victories and scoff at simple solutions.
You should also consider The Ice Monster Prologue (IMP). It’s not a real prologue, it can be your first chapter. If you’re writing in world not like our own, you’re going to have to do some world building and, let’s face it, that can be slow reading. The IMP will give your readers danger, excitement and a strong connection with your characters that will sustain them through the next bit of ‘here’s how it all works in this world’.
The first scene in The Matrix is an IMP – Trinity is being chased, running across rooftops in tight leather pants – we’re all interested in what’s going on and stay in our seats to see what happens next. Imagine if the movie started out with Neo in his messy apartment, going to a club but being a wallflower. How interesting is that? Sure, we might watch some because Keanu Reeves is easy on the eyes, but that’s not enough to hold everyone in their seats. If you need one, go ahead and write one.
As I said, you can plot your main storyline and subplots using these seven points. Once you do that, you can interweave them to give your novel the pacing it needs and line them up when you need to create a powerful scene. Give it a try on your plot. I’ll be back tomorrow with my plots in the 7 point system and I’ll show you how I’ll arrange them to have the maximum impact on my readers.
Keep plotting your own novels – only 9 days until we start!