Hey everyone! I wanted to take a moment and share this approach my brother and I take when we develop our plot structures. It’s super simple and, at least for us, extremely helpful. Soooo here we go…
Okay, now assuming you’ve established your primary and secondary characters (friends, opponents, fake-friend, fake-opponent, etc) along with the complimentary and antagonistic relationships they have with each other, which of course will stir up conflict and give your main character opportunities to resolve those conflicts, then I personally feel like it’s logical to move into story structuring. This is especially logical given the fact that we know their basic desires, which can put them on a path towards something and we know what their weakness and needs are, which can help guide us to a conclusion that makes sense and is fulfilling to the viewer because a point will have been made. So, how do we do this?
Below, you’ll see a template my partner and I use when developing our stories. Now, it’s important to note that at this point, you’re not revealing the motives of the characters, but rather the choices they make; the physical things that happen. The motives are in the character engines that I explained in the previous document and it’s the combination of the character engines and the plot structure that will help you craft your outline so that you get a complete sense of where they go (plot) and why they go that way in that manner (character engine). Anyway, check it out:
Now, here’s the thing. What we like to do is infuse Michael Hauge’s, Six Part Story Structure into the three act structure so that our plot points become stronger. Let’s break this down:
Setting: This is the World that you’re introducing us to and is the place where you want to identify what period in history we are in, whether it’s the present, past, or future, and where we are in the World. Is this New York? Upscale New York? Low-scale? Are we in the sticks? Are we on an island? Is there a major political situation we should know about, such as a genocide or a war or some kind of revolution? What is the foreground World that our character lives in and what, if anything relevant, is going on in the background? This is a good place to determine how important the World actually is in telling the story. For something like, Westworld, its fundamental. For a typical rom-com in modern-day New York? Not so much.
Characters: Pretty self-explanatory here. This is your main ensemble. Typically, we like to name the characters at this point and identify what their relationship is to the protagonist. Obviously, you shouldn’t name every single character in the story, just the main character, the antagonist, the essential friends of the main character and the essential friends of the antagonist.
Situation: This is your basic introduction to the character’s life. Who is he, what is he doing both job-wise and in his personal life, what’s the physical weakness that’s holding him back and what is the lie that he’s telling himself to justify his weakness? So, for example the person may be obsessed with get-rich-quick schemes, which is causing them to be broke and distant in their relationships with the people they care most about. They justify this weakness by saying that it was bad luck, which caused them to fail and that if they just do this next thing, they’ll make it. Remember, at this point, we still don’t know their moral weakness because your character doesn’t know what it is. Otherwise, the story would end right at the situation. All in all, though, this is your foundation for the character; This is their life and why it’s not ideal right now.
Plot Point #1: In the six step story structure this is known as the opportunity and the new situation. The opportunity is a moment that gives your character a chance to do something or go somewhere and it’s this new moment thatsheds light on a desire your character has. They want to win the gold medal for this competition when a new guy challenges their supremacy.They want to spread their mother’s ashes along the West Coast of Africawhen their estranged brother confronts them about the news of theirmother’s passing.
The new situation is the moment that comes after the opportunity. They take the opportunity and now they’re in a different part of their life where they must acclimate to this new environment. For the gold medalist example, it’s teaming up with the master trainer and getting into the fierce exercises. For the dead mother example, it would be getting on a plane or a boat and traveling to Africa.
Conflict #1: Also called, The Change of Plans and Progress, in the six step process. For Change of plans, your character has an opportunity to do something, they get into it and try to fit into this new life, but then suddenly a conflict arises that destroys their initial plan once they seized the opportunity. Now, they must do something else and it’s this something else that allows us to see some kind of end goal. So, for instance, say you have a bank robber who is given an opportunity to do a job, he takes it and tries to acclimate to this new plan of action, but then there’s a rat and now they’re all being chased by police. Now the robber has to change his plans and do something else to either achieve the initial goal or reach the new goal that is established. So, lets say his new goal is to exact revenge on the rat because that money was supposed to save his little brother.
Progress are the moments that continue in the story where your character is making some progress, though not without conflict. Now, the robber is able to get away temporarily and stay with his ex girlfriend who hates his guts. But, complications force him to leave and go somewhere else where he runs into some close calls, but ultimately makes it. You create a series of give and takes as he progresses toward his goal. Give him something and then take it away and then give something back and then take it away again.
Conflict #2: This is known as the, Point of No Return, in the six step process. This is the moment where your character has to fully commit to achieving their goal. So, maybe up to this point the robber could have just skipped town. But, now after a series of give and takes, he meets up with his old crew who all plan to kill the rat and now, we’re at the moment when they’re pulling off the execution and this robber can’t back down. All bridges and opportunities to get out are burned.
Conflict #3: This is the moment where your stakes and conflicts become much higher. At this point in time, you want to give less to your character and take more away from them. As much as they’re trying to win at this point and reach their goal, that opportunity should be lessening more and more until finally you reach…
Plot Point #2: The lowest point of your protagonist. This is the moment when everything istaken away from them. There is seemingly no hope. Typically, they’ll retreat toa safe-space and contemplate giving up. But eventually, they’ll get back in thefight, formulate a final plan that will put everything on the table, and moveforward into the…
Final Conflict: This is the moment when your character decides to risk everything to achieve their goal and its usually very overwhelming for them. Ideally, it’s supposed to build up to a climax where they face the biggest obstacle, typically the main opponent. And, it’s here where they ultimately decide their fate and the physical desire is fulfilled…or not.
Conclusion: Then, we finally reach the conclusion, which we all know as the moments that happen after the big fight…Or not. There aren’t any actual rules to screenwriting, so you could just as easily end the movie as soon as the character wins or loses, or end it shortly after or even years later. Just end the damn thing!
So, that’s pretty much how my brother structure our stories. It’s nothing new or revolutionary. Everyone’s been doing this for a very long time and that’s because it’s super effective. But, the key is to look at this as a guiding structure rather than a thing that will really tell the story. These are vague points that you’re trying to reach in the story. At this point, it’s okay if you don’t know how your character will steal valuable information from the antagonist, you just know that they will. The story is in the details and that to us is where the heart of the story is revealed. Hope this is helpful and best of luck climbing the mountain!