This page describes checklists and other tables that I use to flesh out and refine plot-based elements of my stories. For an overview of these and other resources, including general usage and warnings, see here.
I distinguish between a plot and a story. A story almost always contains multiple plots; ie, plot and sub-plots, action line and relationship line (Aronson 2001), etc. The checklists in this section pertain to a single plot line. Separate checklists need to be completed for every plot line in the story (you can abbreviate the detail for minor plots). The pages on Timeline and Story Structure describe how to interweave the plots.
Structurally, these checklists assume the classical three-act form. Variations and alternatives to that structure are described in Aronson 2001.
Consider having a sub-plot for each main character.
Treat each flash-back (or series of flash-backs) as a (sub-)plot in its own right.
|Question: ‘What if…?’|
|Conflict (briefly; details in Basis of Conflict)|
|Theme (underlying). To facilitate action and hence plot, try to express in active terms; eg, ‘judging a book by its cover leads to…’.|
|Theme applicability to readers|
|Key value change in character|
|Cause of key value change|
|What does the problem/situation reveal about character?|
|What does the way that the problem/situation is dealt with reveal about character?|
Basis Of Conflict
|Initial unsatisfied desire/need|
|Is goal about possession or relief?|
|Are consequences substantial if unattained?|
|Goal deadline (if a ‘crisis’)|
|Is goal voluntary (ie, a ‘challenge’)?|
|Motivation for char to pursue this goal?|
|Is motivation laudable?|
|Is motivation too clichéd?|
|Problem in achieving goal|
|Is failure a distinct possibility?|
Relationship with Main Plot
(Applicable to sub-plots only.)
|How sub-plot supports main plot by echoing it: variations on a theme|
|How sub-plot complicates main plot (eg, adding antagonism/tension/conflict)|
|How sub-plot contradicts main plot (ie, sends opposite message)|
|Sub-plot is not over-emphasised, such that its protagonist eclipses main plot’s protagonist|
Act I: The Problem
|Action (hook). May be inciting/precipitating incident. Usually involves a character, but may be a situation.|
|Char (protagonist + ?) background|
|Establish ordinary world|
|Protagonist meets other characters, probably including antagonist and mentor|
|Introduce main problem, and why it belongs to protagonist. Provide only essential info initially; flesh out when required subsequently.|
|Climax (incl. surprise): use confrontation tables for details|
|Settings are consistent with atmosphere|
|All relevant character attribute revelation/development events have been included (and back-referenced to here).|
|Character attributes required to make this work have been identified and included here (back-referenced to this plot-act-stage).|
Act II: Development
Act II basically consists of a series of ‘stages’. Each stage represents an attempt by the protagonist to achieve something related to the plot goal. There should be complications; eg, due to the machinations of the antagonist(s).
For each stage, complete a set of the confrontation tables.
This checklist is for Act II overall. Each stage has its own checklist in the corresponding confrontation table.
|Motivation may be revealed progressively; ie, after some events they’ve motivated|
|Problem is resolved slowly; ie, there are sufficient complications|
|Problem becomes progressively more difficult (ie, more/harder complications)|
|Plot complications are non-linear (eg, not a case of find this then this then this; or, go here then here then here, etc)|
|There is an underlying logic linking all plot complications, which is exposed at the right time|
|Protagonist’s solution to original problem progressively unravels|
|Each stage moves plot/sub-plot closer to resolution|
|Final complication (stage) results in apparent destruction of protagonist’s plan (and possibly protagonist as well)|
Act III: Resolution
Complete a set of the confrontation tables for the confrontation that finally resolves the conflict and achieves the plot’s goal (to the extent that it is achieved).
This checklist is in addition to the checklist in Act III’s confrontation tables.
|Confrontation (see Act III confrontation tables): (maybe) this is the first time that the protagonist has confronted the problem directly|
|Act III crisis (ie, dilemma in Act III confrontation tables):|
|Decision(s) (see Act III confrontation tables):|
|Outcomes (Act III confrontation tables):|
|Understanding (in Act III confrontation tables) may include moral lesson|
One set of these tables should be used for the main confrontations in each act (typically, Act I climax, Act II developments, and Act III climax).
|Act and stage ID|
|Setting (refer to relevant setting ID)|
|What causes this development? State reason and/or character, and link to predecessor changes.|
|Narrative tension question dealt with during this act/stage|
|Prior to confrontation:|
|Decision(s)—or indecision. Also those of adversaries. Predictability gap (ie, protagonist tries to reach goal assuming world is predictable, whereas antagonist tries to make protagonist’s world unpredictable).|
|Action(s)/revelation(s). A scene can only be ‘turned’ via action or revelation.|
|Bigger problem noticed (essential if goal achieved, unless at end of plot)|
|Surprise (if any). Consider surprises at end of Act I, middle and end of Act II, and Act III. A surprise is an unexpected failure, event, info or action that makes things much worse.|
|Narrative tension question posed at end of this act/stage (except for final confrontation)|
|What pacing is appropriate? Consider:|
|Setting is consistent with atmosphere|
|Use of ways to make victim and tormentor more memorable, and create emotion:|
|Saviour (if used) can appear to be meddling, especially with emotional suffering. Saviour should be reluctant or asked to intervene.|
|Decision(s) are consistent with character’s nature), or are motivated and explained (cf. foreshadowing for Decision(s) and Action(s))|
|Decisions balance risk and benefit|
|Decisions don’t make character Too Stupid To Live|
|Character(s) attribute(s) revealed (especially by decision(s))? Link to character attribute tables.|
|Are changes (ie, outcomes) the result of conflict (ie, meaningful) or coincidence (ie, futility)?|
|Are changes (ie, outcomes) sometimes bad for characters?|
|Character(s)’ development is progressed (probably via change(s); ie, outcomes)?|
|How is character(s)’ development (above) achieved?|
|Required foreshadowing: describe, and specify plot and stage ID in which the foreshadowing is provided. Consider:|
|Sequencing issues regarding dovetailing with other plots (eg, prerequisites, pacing)|
|Character attributes required to make this work have been identified and included in character attribute tables (back-referenced to this plot stage)|
|All relevant character attribute revelation/development events have been included (and cross-referenced to the character attribute tables)|
The list of sources from which the information in these tables was derived is here.