Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Revised Plot Checklist

Recently I sat down to analyze a couple of the novel manuscripts I'm working on, and as is my wont, I ran them through my Plot Checklist, which helps me ensure that I know (and more importantly, the reader knows) what the story is, what is at stake, what emotional ends we're working toward, that things actually happen, and all those other good things. However, the version of the Checklist I featured on my website (which is also the version included in Second Sight) hadn't kept pace with some of my thinking about plot -- particularly what I'm currently teaching in my Plot Master Class,

So I revised the Checklist for my own use, and put the revised version up on my website here, again with a Word template for downloading. (The old checklist is still up here, at the address given in the book.) If you've read Second Sight, the four biggest changes you'll notice are:

  1. The addition of "Desire" to this page. I discuss it in the character talk, but a Desire is such a useful structuring element for a plot -- giving your protagonist a defined goal -- that I wanted to include it here too.
  2. The addition of "Obstacles" -- the things that get in the way of the Desire or of the task your character must accomplish in the novel. Generally there are both Overarching Obstacles -- the major things your protagonist must overcome, like the distance to Mount Doom -- and Periodic Obstacles -- problems in each individual period of the journey. They can be both internal and external (and there probably should be both internal and external obstacles).
  3. "Periods": Rather than thinking about individual Escalating & Complicating Events, I now try dividing a manuscript into periods. A period is a set of Escalating & Complicating Events that occur within a limited period of time, often with one other particular person or in one particular place, during which time your protagonist changes in one particular way. They are often joined by Turning Points (but there are usually more of them than just three or four, so they aren't quite Acts, in the screenplay-structure sense).
  4. "The Experiential Point" -- I wrote about this here.
If you use the checklist, I hope you find it useful! I'll next be teaching my Plot Master Class in Utah on November 17 -- registration here -- and I believe spaces are still open in Hawaii in February as well. The online version will start up in December, and if it goes well, we may run it again next spring. This blog will have details. 


  1. Thanks so much for updating the plot checklist, Cheryl. The first one is already so helpful. Wish I lived in Hawaii or Utah to take your class.

  2. Your "periods" sound a lot like the screenwriting idea of "Sequences." Are they the same thing, or is there a difference?