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Seven Plot Structures. What is it, and how different is it from a Three-Act Play?

Seven Plot Structure. What is it, and how different is it from a Three-Act Play?

Three act plays have a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning can have a hook or an inciting incident, but it builds the ordinary world in which the character lives. The middle captures the character’s action and growth, which will build-up to the climax of the story (fifty percent of the story). Finally, Climax happens, and then it falls into the resolution and ties it all together (twenty-five percent of the story).

There is nothing wrong with that structure, but for new authors who want to impact their readers, you must break it down into more chewable parts. Why? You need a strong structure. I believe you need to understand the big chunk/Act 2 (the middle 50% of the story) without getting lost in your own words so-to-speak.

Ok. Here is the simple three-act play for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. However, think about the complexities in act 2 and see if you can keep it all straight and help your characters to develop:

Act 1: We are introduced to a world of wizards who know all about Harry and the miracle it was to survive He-who-must-

not-be-named, and yet his uncle and aunt treat him like dirt and are fearful of anything that is “not normal.” Harry is confined to sleep under the stairs and can never explain all the strange incidents that occur. (Here we are showing the ordinary world). Letters come by the thousands, and his Uncle takes the family and runs. However, Harry soon after receives a

letter inviting him to attend Hogwarts thanks to Hagrid busting into their house and giving it to him. This particular moment is the inciting incident or the call to adventure.

Act 2: Harry and his newly found friends officially enter the magical school, and their lives (especially Harry’s) are changed forever. We see the school as a crucial part of the story and all the teachers, friends, nemesis, and even antagonists. We know the fear of Snape, the Troll that causes damage and yet cements Ron, Harry, and Hermione’s

friendship. We are introduced to quidditch, see near death, discover more profound mysteries about the stone, and Harry also encounters Voldemort (the dark wizard who killed his parents) in the forest on school grounds.

Act 3: Harry and his friends have to sneak past the three-headed dog and complete numerous tasks and puzzles to try and stop Professor Snape from securing the Sorcerer’s stone. Ron has to sacrifice himself to all0w Harry to move on in the puzzling adventure. Climax Harry Finds out that another professor was trying to steal the stone, and Harry ends up killing him, and another near brush of death from Voldemort happens. Following this scene comes the resolution where we end the school year with Gryffindor winning the cup, Harry returns to the Dursley’s and next year’s school year awaits him.

On the surface, this feels like a summary of the story—sounds great—we have a beginning, middle, and end.

But I am worried; imagine if you are writing this. I start asking all of the following questions:

  1. Is that enough structure of the plot to give you the complexities of the characters?

  2. How do you know where to lead the reader without getting distracted or lost in the 30 plus characters that have been introduced?

  3. Where is the troll’s action, the sleeping dog, Snape, the other professors, Ron, and Hermione taking us?

  4. How are you building the characters’ dimensions with meaningful connections to the MC without distracting them away from Harry?

  5. Would you know where to build up the tensions between the characters to propel the story forward or for the reader to really care about the next school year?

It’s possible, but as a new author, I think that the three-act structure is just not specific enough to really help the writer get to the place she needs to be. I find many authors want to quit or give up because they are lost.

That is why I am such a fan of the 7 or 8 plot structure and carrying it through the entire story. If you are writing a trilogy or a series of books, I would highly recommend this structure and the same structure to weave throughout the books.

Here is the summary of the structure:

Ordinary World (Start with Lack)

Inciting Incident (Call to adventure and something changes)

1st Plot Point (No return) The MC and characters are forced into the Action

1st Pinch Point (1st run-in with the antagonist—they survive but at a cost).

Midpoint (Shift from Victim to Warrior)

2nd Pinch Point (second "battle" or struggle)

2nd plot Twist (Dark night of the soul—the reader guesses you are quitting)

Final Battle/Resolution (the MC triumphs and gains knowledge).

Here is the breakdown of the same story in a 7-8 plot structure.

Ordinary World

(Start with Lack) Sound your MC with the environment reflecting their inner flaw and maybe a hint of their strength. Build it for 1-2 chapters—The Dursley’s. The world Harry lives in, and yet, we know that there must be another world based on all the characters talking about the boy who lived!

Inciting Incident (Call to adventure and something changes)

There is an intrusion of the ordinary world, and it must be noticeable. Authors, be careful not to add too much backstory here. The main character is not trusting what is happening to them, and many desire things to go back to normal. Suddenly all the letters from Hogwarts show up; Harry’s Aunt and Uncle are not excited about all the negative things that are happening and make a run for it.

Enter Hagrid. He shares the letter with Harry and gives him the unbelievable news that he is a wizard. This is the point of no return. Harry can never go back to living the way he was before. (By-the-way, all of this is ACT 1).

1st Plot Point (No return)

The MC and characters are forced into the Action. This takes about 2-3 chapters to establish the new world they are in. We are introduced to the world of Hogwarts, teachers/staff, and Ron and Hermione.

1st Pinch Point (1st run-in with the antagonist—they survive but at a cost).

2-3 chapters will build up how Harry is a little leary and excited about his new world. His friends guide Harry, and we as readers have bought into the world and into Harry.

The story has introduced us to Snape, and we believe that he hates Harry. Snape must be up to something. We are also introduced to Quirrell and his weakness. The troll comes, wrecks havoc, Ron and Harry save Hermione, all survive, and this experience seals their friendship together.

Midpoint (Shift from Victim to Warrior)

This can be 2-4 chapters. Harry must face new challenges, and he is doing so in a defensive role. He is mostly reacting (not really planning—I mean, he is 11) to the situations before him. In the quidditch game, his broom is bewitched, and we all think it is Snape. He realizes that someone is trying to kill Harry.

Hermione comes to the rescue, yet there is more. The three are trying to resolve the mystery that has been placed before them (the Sorcerer's Stone) and gather information from Hagrid, from Snape, from the setting at large. They determine to make a plan of action and no longer sit back in a defensive position.

2nd Pinch Point (second "battle" or struggle—2-4 chapters)

The MC will have another confrontation with the antagonist (Snape,) and Harry is determined to see it through and feels partly responsible. The scene in the library under the invisibility cloak is this connection. Harry’s scar hurts, Snape almost catches him, and he hears the information from Quirrell. Harry understands that all this is really terrible—much worse than expected. Voldemort intends to kill him again.

2nd plot Twist (Dark night of the soul—the reader guesses you are quitting 2-3 chapters)

The plan has failed. The secret weapon has backfired; the hero’s team is beaten. They don’t have the advantage. This is that point of no hope in the story. The fears of the MC at the beginning (Harry being killed by the Villain Voldemort) return. There is no hope. Someone is hurt. There is no cause for victory.

For Harry, all of this happens as he has to serve detention in the forbidden forest with Hagrid. Harry has his nemesis with him, who is terrified to be in the woods. He makes a run for it when they see the shadow figure hovering over the dead unicorn. Harry is left to defend and fight alone. Harry narrowly escapes death again, all thanks to the centaur. (By-the-way—all of that was Act 2. That is a lot to keep track of with the complexity of the characters’ external and internal struggles, the plot twists, and the climax’s build-up. That can be anywhere from 10-20 chapters. That is a lot. Phew!)

Final Battle/Resolution (the MC triumphs and gains knowledge 2-4 chapters) The MC needs a pep talk and a “get’er done” speech to really win the fight! Ron and Hermione are there to support and help him up to the very end. Ron has to sacrifice himself for Harry to move forward to that final meeting. The villain has the hero trapped. Then there comes the speech—the gloating on how he will kill the other. Harry kills Quirell, and Voldemort’s spirit flees! We know that Harry is going to pull through but might be hurt or damaged a bit.

The resolve is that all Ron will recover, Hermione is safe, the school has been rid of evil, and the school cup goes to Gryffindor! There is resolve . . . but Voldemort is still out there, and we have to see what adventure awaits in book two! (That is all Act 3)

Authors, can you see the support and the breakdown with the 7-8 point structure and how it can help you in your writing? There is power in knowing the structure and how to guide the story forward. As a side note, this structure can be done with dynamic, static, and anthology trilogies. But it is mostly done with dynamic structures.

Let me know if you have any questions and if this has been supportive of your writing journey.

For the next few weeks, I will share the secret of developing amazing Characters that are the core of your story.

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