Seven Point Plot System
or: Plotting For Goblins
Please share this if you find it helpful! Make sure you credit me and the original creators, listed in bold right over there... ------>
FIRST OF ALL!
This information was originally posted on my personal website, but since that page is password protected, I thought I'd copy it over here. It's great information, and made a big difference for me in my writing journey!
SECOND OF ALL!
I didn't invent this. I heard about it at a Utah writing convention from author Dan Wells, and he said he got it from the Star Trek roleplaying game. So I claim absolutely no ownership of this original concept! I added the character arc tie-in, though. Woohoo!
Okay, now that the disclaimers are out of the way, let's get going!
Outlines are kind of like road maps.
No, I don't mean like the Google Maps app on your phone. I mean a real, giant, extra-detailed road map that you (maybe?) can still buy at gas stations. They show you where all the important stuff is, but they don't tell you how to get there. The 7-Point Plot Method is like planning a road trip on that road map. You know where you're starting, where you're ending, and who you need to visit along the way: Aunt Martha in Kentucky, Uncle Jim in Illinois, all the cousins in Utah. But this type of outlining gives you the freedom to take detour to that roadside BBQ stand or the world's biggest ball of twine or even the Grand Canyon. Once you're done having your fun, you can get back on the road and start heading to your destination again. And if that pit stop was a waste of time? That's okay! It was still fun! Before we get into the seven points, first we have to talk about the four parts of a character arc!
The character begins the story believing a fundamental mistruth about themselves, the world, or the people around them.
Check out my YouTube series Character Therapy for a bunch of examples of schemas, AKA Lies!
This is the thing the character thinks they need in order to be happy. The problem with the Want is that it's predicated upon the assumption that the Lie is true. Which means it's wrong on its face!
The Want is usually a physical object or tangible thing, like a sword, or money, or a promotion at work.
This is the thing the character actually needs in order to be happy. The Truth is gained after a book's worth of journeying and learning and challenging the Lie.
The Truth is usually an intangible thing, like a change in perspective, a realization, or an epiphany.
This is the thing that caused the Lie in the first place. Check out the Character Therapy series for common causes of schemas!
Why should the audience care?
Show a reason for them to be connected to this character.
Plot Turn 1
The character moves from the comfortable normal world into the uncomfortable new world.
The antagonist is introduced!
Character is caught equally between the Lie and the Truth.
They move from reaction to action.
The antagonist is back and it's even worse this time.
Jaws of defeat!
Plot Turn 2
The character has everything they need to defeat the antagonist.
The point of the story.
The critical moment that fulfills the dramatic promise of the story.
Starting at the end allows you to have that destination in mind. On our road trip, without a destination, we don't even know the side of the country we're supposed to be on. Don't worry! This can change later. But for now, figure out the ending!
Why are we starting at the end?
Make it all about character emotions or the arc! How do you want your character to feel when the book ends? How do you want them to have grown? If you don't know anything about the actual events of the story yet, at least have in mind how you want your character to end. Again, you can change this later!
What if I don't know the ending?
This is why we needed to know how the character ends up! Starting them in an opposite state lets us know how to start. Namely, that ending is their ideal self when they've taken up the Truth. The Hook is all about the Lie. If your character ends happy, start them sad! If they end in a position of power, start them downtrodden!
Start in the opposite state as the end!
The point of the hook is to, well, snag the reader so they can't walk away! This is done with a characteristic moment, which shows the reader who the character really is inside, independent of external circumstances. Give the reader something to root for in your character. Even if they're sad and downtrodden, make them immediately interesting and endearing so the reader has no choice but to read on.
Why should the reader care?
Your character has been clinging to the Lie so far, but the midpoint is where they make a conscious mental shift from their starting state to their ending state. Now is where they start to realize, "Hey, maybe the Lie isn't so great after all." The transition isn't complete, but at the Midpoint, the Lie and Truth hold equal footing in the character's mind.
Go from Lie to Truth
For pacing, this should happen approximately at the 50% mark of the book. If your character moves into their final state too early, you're going to have a draggy second half and the change is going to feel abrupt and unearned. If they move too late, they will be frustratingly inactive for way too long, and you may lose your reader. Pacing is different for kidlit versus adult. Normally, Act I is much shorter in MG and YA novels!
The Midpoint is the middle
Okay! We've made it through the big plot points. Hooray! Now let's take a look at how this looks on a line chart:
Lie vs Truth
On the left, we start out at the Hook, where the Lie is at 100% and the Truth is at 0%. The character might not even know that the Truth is a thing at this point! On the right, we end at the Climax, where the Lie and Truth have flipped: the Truth is 100% and the Lie is 0%. In the middle, the Midpoint shows the Lie and Truth as equals. There's a stretch there between the Pinches and the Midpoint where the Lie and Truth kind of do some ups and downs. These stretches are the parts of Act II where the character is on the adventure, learning and unlearning. Their Lie is being alternately reinforced and challenged, which allows them to have a gradual, believable arc to embracing the Truth.
Careful Balancing Act
Okay, let's get back to it!
THE PLOT TURNS
Plot Turn 1
If you're going by Acts, Plot Turn 1 gets your character into Act 2. This is the big upheaval, the call to adventure, the point of no return. The character moves out of their comfortable village into the great wilderness... AND IT SUCKS! They're trying to apply the Lie to a world that rejects it, so things keep going wrong and the character has no idea why.
ACT I > ACT II
Plot Turn 2
Plot Turn 2 is the start of Act 3. The antagonist just swooped in and trashed the character's stuff, and your character is at their lowest point, barely hanging on to whatever they hold dear.
ACT II > ACT III
Then suddenly... EUREKA!!
They get what they need to defeat the antagonist, because at this point they completely let go of the Lie and embrace the Truth. Embracing the Truth may be entirely metaphorical, like realizing there is no secret ingredient, or represented by a physical object, like a weapon or piece of technology. Everything is now assembled for the final showdown!
The antagonist is introduced. This forces the character into action. Remember, they were just thrust into their new world via Plot Turn 1, and it kinda sucks. They want to go back home--back somewhere the Lie makes sense--but the antagonist isn't going to let them. The character's first interaction with the antagonist is going to end badly, and this is because the character is still using their Lie to drive their actions. The Lie doesn't work in this new world, so the character is going to fail and fail, but not understand why just yet.
MEET THE ANTAGONIST
The jaws of defeat! The antagonist is back, meaner and more powerful than ever. Pinch 2 is the end of Act 2 and what will take us into Act 3, where the protagonist is at their lowest point and all seems lost. This is the dark night of the soul. This is the worst case scenario. How is the protagonist going to survive this? Make the reader doubt that the happy ending they want is possible. The character has been learning to accept the Truth and has been slowly rejecting the Lie, but at this point the Truth seems unattainable, ridiculous, unrealistic, or just plain impossible.
THAT'S IT! YOU'RE ALL DONE!
Remember, this outline isn't set in stone. You can come back and change things if the story starts going in a different direction. Use this as your general road map, and go write!
Like I said up above, feel free to share this with author friends you think it would help! All I ask is that you credit the creators: Star Trek roleplaying game for the original, Dan Wells for his conference presentation, and me for fleshing out the character arc tie-in and transcribing it onto this website. By the way, I have a ton of other writing-related stuff on my YouTube channel and my personal website. Go take a lookeroo if you want more!