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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The 7 Point Plot System aka Save the Cat for Pantsers

ETA: Don't worry about having to keep with the links! I've compiled a list at the bottom of this post!

One of the things I hear most about Save the Cat is that it's damn complicated and what the shit is a theme and why does it have to be in the form of a question? This is a BOOK, Liz, not a freaking episode of Jeopardy!

Pantsers especially, I've noticed, are hella skeered of the beat sheet. And I guess I can understand why. Breaking your book down into 15 steps when you don't even know what your book is about yet does fall under the heading of "intimi--wait for it--dating".

But fear not, you writerly peoples, you! For there is a solution for you heathen pantsers!

The 7 Point Plot System

Developed by Dan Wells, who attributes it to Star Trek RPG, the 7 Point Plot System gives you all the goods of Save the Cat, but with fewer, less intimidating steps.

Here's what it looks like:

The 7 Point Plot System

The beginning. The mirror image of the end.

Turn 1
Introduces conflict and bridges the gap between the Hook and the Midpoint.

Pinch 1
Something bad happens.

Bridges the gap between the Hook and the Resolution.

Pinch 2
Something even worse happens.

Turn 2
Bridges the gap between Midpoint and End.

The climax. Everything in the story leads to this moment.

There's more to it than that, but I'm not going to go into it because he does it so much better. Fortunately for you, the workshop presentation is on YouTube!

He's even made the PowerPoint slides available for download: 7 Point Plot System slides!

I would strongly recommend watching the workshop and going over the slides if you have a free hour this weekend, because not only does he go over the different steps using examples from Harry Potter and The Matrix, but he also goes into some hardcore layered plotting, and breaks it down in a way that it's so simple to use, even for the most die-hard pantser.

(For those of you saving it for later, here's a direct link: 7 Point Plot System. You can also download a PDF of the PowerPoint slides here: 7 Point Plot System PDF.)

How it Works with Save the Cat

I've been over this a hundred times with Liz Poole, and I can say unequivocally, it matches up near perfect with Save the Cat.

Here's the breakdown:

7 Point Plot System
Save the Cat
  • Hook
  • Opening Image
  • Theme Stated
  • Setup
  • Turn 1
  • Catalyst
  • Debate
  • Pinch 1
  • Break into Act II
  • B-Story
  • Fun & Games
  • Midpoint
  • Midpoint
  • Pinch 2
    • Bad Guys Close In
    • All is Lost
    • Black Moment
    • Turn 2
    • Break into Act III
    • Finale
    • Resolution
    • Final Image

    So you can see, it matches up pretty well. For a better example, I went ahead and did a Beat Sheet and 7 Point Plot worksheet for Wicked (the musical, not the book):

    (If you hate Scribd, don't worry--there are links to downloadable PDF versions of these at the bottom of this post.)

    7 Point Plot Worksheet - Wicked
    Save the Cat Beat Sheet for Novels - Wicked

    If you're one of the people who tried Save the Cat and it just didn't work for you, I hope this helps to fill in that gap. These days, I find it's easier to scratch out a loose plot using the 7 Point Plot system, work with the story for a few pages, and then fill in the blanks on the Save the Cat beat sheet as they come to me. A lot of the intimidation that comes with the Save the Cat beat sheet comes from the feeling that you have to have this enormous chunk of information before you even begin writing, and I like how the 7 Point Plot System simplifies that so that you're only working on one aspect of the plot (action, romance, betrayal) at any given time.
    Part 1 of the Story Structure (7 Point Plot) workshop: YouTube
    Story Structure (7 Point Plot) slides: PowerPoint | PDF

    Beat Sheet example for "Wicked": PDF
    7 Point Plot example for "Wicked": PDF

    Save the Cat Beat Sheet for Novels: Excel

    7 Point Plot Worksheet (Printable): PDF
    7 Point Plot Worksheet (Layered): Excel

    Thank You
    I love that so many people have found the Save the Cat Beat Sheet for Novels helpful. As always, if you have any questions or comments (or corrections!), feel free to let me know.

    More beat sheet stuff is coming this summer! It's gonna be awesome!


    1. Elizabeth BriggsMay 15, 2012 at 5:21 PM

      This is great! I usually do the 7 point system first, then the Save The Cat beat sheet, then do a chapter by chapter outline.

    2. I especially love how easy it is to fill out and tweak. Also, as you said, it makes layering more simple. You can do a 7 point system for characters, for each aspect of the plot, etc...

    3. You are so amazing.  I'm one of those pantsers.  I used your beat sheet for the second draft of my WIP and it came out perfectly beated, but boring as shit.  Maybe I f'd it up?  I threw it away and just pantsed and it's way more interesting but was a hot tranny mess that needed to be rearranged a bit.

    4. This is very helpful, because I've tried plotting/outlining before but it always seemed to be too difficult. But now that I'm in the revision stages, I've started thinking that taking what I've written and putting it into an outline might make it easier to reorganize and revise everything.

    5. I actually suggested to LTUE that they have a forum devoted specifically to how the different plotting methods correlate with each other. This helps answer the questions I was having. Thanks, and so genius!

    6. That's a good plan. I sometimes use the 7 point story structure to write a chapter if I'm having a bad time of not knowing how to get from point A to point B.

    7. If it came out boring, it could be due to:

      * The most obvious question would be...are you sure it's boring? Is it possible you're just too close to see how not boring it is?

      * Pacing. Make your Resolution your Midpoint and plot from there.

      * Internal motivation. Are your characters connecting with the plot, or is it something they're doing while their mind is somewhere else? 

      Joss Whedon's Dollhouse had such a great concept and anything-but-boring plot lines, but I had such a hard time getting into it because I felt like the characters weren't as vibrant as they needed to be. I didn't care about the characters, so I didn't care about what happened to them or what they did.
      So if your plot works out and you still think it's boring and you're sure it's not a pacing issue or a perspective issue, look at the characters. Make sure they're 150,000% invested in what's going on in your story.

    8. It is always SO much easier to deconstruct something with Save the Cat than it is to construct something with save the cat. There are a lot of little pieces that don't get filled in until edits, and that's OK. This is why I love love love 7 points for starting a novel. It's so much easier to get a basic ending, beginning, midpoint than it is to get, like, theme stated, or whiff of death.

    9. I love the 7 point plot system by Dan Wells. I'm planning on using Save the Cat to outline my next book. :)

    10. Holy crap. I love you. Brilliant. Just brilliant. I know you sent me the system already, but I love the way you pin it up against the Save the Cat beats. Also, Pinch 1 just showed me where to go next. I need to watch the workshop.

    11. Yay for Save the Cat!! Let me know how it goes!

    12. I tell you, it's fun hearing about where friends are in their books and trying to guesstimate just how far into the story they are. "Oooh, I wonder if that's a pinch or a turn!"

    13. I love the Dan Wells Series! And you are so awesome to go through these analyses, especially since I'm trying to structure my own story to make it stronger! I'll be lurking a TON more!

    14. Dude, this is awesome. Also, you are so damn organized, you spread sheet lover, you. :)




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