Step 2: Key Plot Points Using the 3-act Structure

Why do I need to follow a structure? I write “organically” as it comes to me.

  • Ever since Aristotle defined the six elements that make a drama great in Poetics, every dramatist since then has copied the format. Shakespeare used it, and every screenwriter since still uses it. Why? Because it works! Time after time after time.
  • A structure ensures that you hit major turning points when you should. The reader expects them, and if you decide to “do it your way” you risk losing readers.
  • A structure ensures that your process is repeatable. Therefore, you ensure quality from book to book or project to project.
  • Some erroneously think that creating a plot (I never use the word outline, which falls short for many reasons) “restricts the imagination.” Wrong! The creative process is the brainstorming involved in creating character and plot. (A friend of mine writes “organically” as she moves along, but then she hits a wall, throws out entire chapters of writing, and sometimes even sets the book aside until the next idea hits or she figures out where to go from there). Plotting ensures you have a roadmap.
  • Car analogy: you get in the car and drive to Florida. Even without a map, you will get there, but you might have taken a lot of bad roads or had to backtrack to get there, but you also might have found a few gems. But if you had researched and mapped out your trip, you could enjoy the gems and leave out the backtracking and get there faster.
  • Continued car analogy: Once you have a roadmap, you hop in the car, put down the top and drive at high speeds. You will reach the end of the novel without stopping, but the twists and turns will be there—those you plotted and some that surprised you along the way.
  • Failing to plot is failing to create dynamite every time. You will waste your time and creativity and you may even give up.


Let’s Get to Work—Create Key Plot Points Using the 3-act Structure and the 8-Essential Plot Elements (vital—follow the order below, step-to-step)

  • Read the information on Act I, Act II and Act III below Do not get too hung up on details if this is new to you. Just read through this quickly and get to the next step. Once you get to the A-Z list, where you will read example after example from real movies, you will begin to understand the 3-act Structure and why it is so important. Note: I direct you to (links below), one of the best sites I’ve come across for providing clear, concise, usable information to writers.

Act I

Act II


  • Go to and review the 5-Point Plot Breakdown. NOTE: You’ll see a list of movies from A to Z. Click on one at a time and read each of the five plot points, until you understand the pattern. It doesn’t matter what genre—they all hit the same plot points. Vital: This is one of the best tools I’ve come across. After reading the plot points of movies I knew and respected, I finally understood major plot points, how they work and why it is so important to hit them in my novels.
  • When you are ready, use the following Plot Planner, where I’ve input the 8-plot points. Brainstorm the plot points of your story and input them into the Plot Planner. Note: since I write novels, the plot planner consists of chapters and scenes, but it works for planning scripts too.  Plot Planner SWL PDF
  • After you input the key Plot Elements into the planner, envision the scenes or storyline that will take you from one to the next. Remember, the tension is always building. I learned the importance of plot from a seminar I took at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference by Martha Alderson. I’ve listed 3 of her books below and explained the value of each. I do not go into the detail scene-by-scene, as she does, but then, I’ve now written a few books and a screenplay, so it comes naturally. I recommend the books below for your writer’s library (I have all three). In each, Alderson provides a Plot Planner diagram (also available on her website or on the internet at and a Scene Tracker (a detailed worksheet for crafting scenes). I use my own Plot Planner with the Essential Elements (PDF above), but the Scene Tracker provides a higher level of detail, scene-by-scene, if you prefer. Alerson also has plot books specific to romance writers. Just go to Amazon and browse.

Plots Blockbuster Pure and SimpleBlockbuster Plots Pure and Simple–This gives you the nuts and bolts of plotting.

Plot Whisperer WorkbookPlot Whisperer Workbook–This provides a step-by-step guide.

Plot WhispererPlot Whisperer—This is the most detailed of the three






Go on to Step 3: Decide Point-of-View and Perspective

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