The first step toward recovery is to admit I have a problem. So here it is. I’m NOT a plotter. I’m a complete “pantser.” There, I said it, but…
When I looked into plot structure for fiction—while I was still delusional about having the capability to actually plot—I found references to the Nine-Act Screenplay Structure. This is the basic framework of today’s blockbuster movies. You’ll see 3-Acts and 12-Acts, but I played with this version below as a format and had some success in conceptually plotting one or two of my earlier stories. Ah, the ambiguity…
It’s my belief that once your brain grasps the concept of this structure, you may automatically follow the idea whether you’re aware of it or not. As a visual learner, it helped me to draft this and embed it in my brain, like a time bomb triggered to go off when I sat in front of my computer.
The 9-Act structure is similar to the classic Hero’s Journey that you may have seen, but I thought this would be interesting to talk about. See what you think. Would something like this work for writing a novel?
Word of Caution – Once you see this framework, you may not enjoy movies the same way again. Just sayin’…
Nine-Act Screenplay Structure
Act 0—During Opening Credits First 5 Minutes (film time)
What strikes the conflict—sets it up—event years earlier may plant the seed of conflict
Act 1—Opening Image—The Panoramic Crane Shot Next 5 Minutes
Act 2—Something Bad Happens 5 Minutes
In a crime story, it’s usually the murder—Reveal the bad front man, but hold off on the introduction of the bad head honcho until later
Act 3—Meet Hero/Protagonist 15 minutes
Meet hero—give him 3 plot nudges to push him to commit
Act 4—Commitment 5-10 Minutes
The push—Usually one scene that’s a door to Act 5—1-way door, no turning back
Act 5—Go for wrong goal – approx. 30 minutes est.
A series of 8-12 min. cycles called whammos or complications followed by a rest period of 5 minutes or so to uncover some of the backstory. End this act with the lowest point for the protagonist. The dark moment.
Act 6—Reversal 5-10 Minutes—Usually 70 Minutes into the Film
The last clue discovered—Now Act 2 makes sense—It is the low point, a history lesson usually revealed by the bad guy/honcho—but reveals the Achilles heel of the nemesis too.
Act 7—Go for New Goal 15-20 Minutes
The clock is ticking—Hero has a new plan. The action seesaws back and forth with nemesis and hero gaining & losing ground between each other—usually takes place in 24 hours within the context of the movie. Favors are repaid, magic, good luck happens. The new plan is kept secret. New goal is achieved.
Act 8—Wrap it Up 5 minutes
Back to where it all began—a feeling of accomplishment & rebirth—the world restored. Ahh!
Now having outlined this plotting structure, I’m not sure if following something like this (without deviation) would hamper creativity by providing too much framework. This would be like “the rules” of writing. Maybe rules are there to be understood, but we shouldn’t be afraid to break them either.
I tend to “think” about my book ahead of time and let my brain ponder what I call my “big ticket” plot movements—like what my black moment will be for my main character(s). I also develop my ideas on who the main cast of characters will be and maybe where I might set the story location(s).
Basically I’m impatient about writing. Plotting and outlining ahead of time would be like the San Antonio Spurs, Manu Ginobili, sitting injured on the sidelines of the NBA finals. The guy just wants to play, man. Let the dude play. (Of course by the time this post happens, the Memphis Grizzlies could put Ginobili on the bench until next season.)
What tips can you share on plotting…for those of us who are challenged by a heavy dose of impatience?