• Gina Denny

The Ultimate Plotting Tool

I started as a pantser, but soon learned that the work I want to write (epic fantasy, ideally in a series) requires a lot of plotting and planning.

So I went in search of plotting tools. And I combined a whole bunch of them together into what I think of as the Ultimate Plotting Tool, which is also an Excellent Pacing Tool when you're working on revisions.

I took Dan Wells 7-point plot system, combined it with Blake Snyder's Save the Cat beat sheet, added the Scene-Sequel strategy, and wrapped it all up in the Hollywood Three-Act Structure.

Sounds confusing?

Thankfully, it's not.

7 point 3 act scene sequel outline tool
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You can see along the left side of the spreadsheet, we've got the three acts bracketing the seven points from Dan Wells' plotting system. There are technically eight here, since Wells doesn't specifically reference the Darkest Moment, which comes out of Campbell's Hero's Journey.

Up in the right corner, you input your target word count (or your actual word count, if you're using this as a diagnostic tool) and the trackers within the sheet will automatically adjust. The beginning/ending word count and approximate page counts are just that - approximations. You might not hit them exactly dead on, but you should be pretty close.

For this example of Hamilton, I used the runtime of the show (160 minutes) and pretended each minute was a word. The opening number, "Alexander Hamilton" runs for three minutes and fifty-six seconds, which is pretty dang close to 4 minutes, which is what the beat sheet says it should run.

Note: in theater the two-act structure is different than in films or novels, but the overall beats end up being the same, more or less. "Ten Duel Commandments" starts after about 45 minutes of the show has passed; the beat sheet thinks it should be somewhere just after 40. And the true midpoint of the show, the start of ACT II (in theater terms), is smack-dab in the middle of the midpoint boxes.

When I'm plotting, I usually have the Main Character Plot column pretty well filled in, and most of the B-plot. But I rarely have any of the scene-sequel bits filled in when I'm drafting. I use this to keep me on track, but then I like to have the feel of a pantser and just noodle around and play with the scenes.

When it comes time to revise and diagnose pacing, that's when I go back and fill in all those scenes and sequels. Not every single spot will get filled in, but any gaping holes will give me a clue about where I need to focus my revisions.

If my page numbers are off by a lot, then I know I need to move things around or make other adjustments (usually I have to cut stuff from the first third of the book and weave it in later).

If you want to hear me talking about this tool, you can listen to an episode of the Pineapple P. Podcast where we talk about narrative structure and use this beat sheet to diagnose the plot of How I Met Your Mother - Season 1 (spoiler: they do a very good job).

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