Great Minds Think Alike . . . or How to Combine Proven Plot Formulas

Lester Dent proposed a plot formula for a 6,000 word story as follows: divide the 6,000 words into four 1,500 word sections.

Part One: hit your hero with a heap of trouble. Part Two: double that trouble. Part Three: put your hero in so much trouble there’s no possible way he could ever get out of it. Part Four: get him out of it in a logical though surprising way.

Combining Lester Dent’s proven plotting process with the essential elements of my master plot formula, we get the following for a 6,000 word short story, with each numbered section equaling 300 words:

Part One: hit your hero with a heap of trouble

1. Old World Stasis: The Protagonist’s ordinary world of home, work, and social life where stasis = death. Because if nothing changes then they will continue to live their unfulfilling existence. Here you present the Protagonist’s dominating character flaw needing fixed through the exchange of its opposite virtue that will complete them.

2. Inciting Incident: The Protagonist’s first introduction to the central story conflict through a major problem or big opportunity influencing their world in as permanent a way as possible caused by the Antagonist while also establishing the Protagonist’s desire which is dominated by one of three potential outcomes: Possession of something, Relief from something, or Revenge for something. The Inciting Incident also tests the Protagonist’s character flaw, proving its burden upon them though at this point they don’t acknowledge it yet.

3. New World Flux: The conflicted Protagonist strives for balance in their newly disrupted world as they debate what can and should be done about the major problem or big opportunity of the Inciting Incident while clinging to their character flaw.

4. Pressure to Proceed: But people are lazy and tend to avoid conflict by instinct unless necessary, so the Protagonist attempts to avoid the consequences of the Inciting Incident impacting their influenced life, often trying to ignore it while hoping another character deals with it instead, but pressure surmounts until they have no choice but to face it themselves.

5. Physical Crossing: The Protagonist finally decides to act and usually physically leaves their old world of restrictions behind for the new world of possibilities ahead. The Physical Crossing (its parallel scene the Spiritual Crossing) is the link connecting Act 1 and Act 2, and it is a collapsing bridge of No Return. Once this bridge is crossed, the Protagonist cannot return home again until the story’s main conflict is resolved or else they’ll live an even more miserable stasis = death existence.

Part Two: double that trouble

6. Things Come Together: The fish-out-of-water Protagonist makes new friends and enemies while shedding old flaws (though not their dominant flaw) for new virtues (or its fulfilling opposite virtue) as they progress toward resolving the central story conflict. Several forms of training also commence, testing the developing Protagonist’s new skills and relationships.

7. Pinch Point: The Antagonist flexes their muscles in a minor way (and usually indirectly through a minion) against the Protagonist, having realized something minor disrupting their ‘evil’ plans.

8. Betrayal Set-up: Someone trusted who is jealous of or dislikes the Protagonist schemes their future ruin behind the scenes.

9. False Victory: Working together as a team, the Protagonist and Allies achieve their biggest success yet toward resolving the central story conflict though not the central conflict itself while earning the full attention of the Antagonist and their frustrated minions. At this point it is clear to both Protagonist and Antagonist that the other is the main obstacle standing in their way to success and needs be removed.

10. Midpoint Twist: A stunning revelation and reversal of fortune causes the momentum shift of the Protagonist from reaction to proaction against the Antagonist.

Part Three: put your hero in so much trouble there’s no possible way he could ever get out of it.

11. Things Fall Apart: The Protagonist’s team of Allies suffers internal dissension as external enemies close in.

12. Punch Point: The Antagonist flexes their muscles in a major way against the Protagonist.

13. Betrayal Pay-off: The Protagonist is stabbed in the back at the worst moment.

14. False Defeat: Someone dies and/or something precious is taken from the Protagonist during this the Antagonist’s false victory where all seems lost in this the Protagonist’s lowest point thus far.

15. Spiritual Crossing: The depressed Protagonist is struck with the inspirational epiphany to continue one last (and usually suicidal) assault against the Antagonist. The Spiritual Crossing (its parallel scene the Physical Crossing) is the link connecting Act 2 and Act 3. This is another collapsing bridge of No Return, and crossing this bridge makes possible or inevitable the final confrontation between Protagonist and Antagonist as well its resolution of the story’s main conflict.

Part Four: get him out of it in a logical though surprising way.

16. Tool Up: The determined Protagonist gathers the necessary tools for the task ahead while making amends with Allies and inspiring them into rejoining the cause.

17. False Solution: All remaining subplots outside the Protagonist are resolved as the surviving Allies of the Protagonist and the minions of the Antagonist are eliminated.

18. Separation: The Protagonist is separated from all remaining Allies so they can face the Antagonist one-on-one as only the unique Protagonist can.

19. True Resolution: The Protagonist defeats the Antagonist or dies trying.

20. Aftermath: The immediate effects of the Protagonist’s victory or defeat.

If you write a measly 300 words per day it will only take you 20 days to complete your 6,000 word short story.

Or you can use this same magic formula for the perfect blueprint to write an outline to your next novel.

Because Michael Moorcock expanded upon Lester’s proven plot formula by applying it to his plethora of 60,000 word novels. He suggested dividing the 60,000 words into four 15,000 word sections then dividing those 15,000 word sections into six 2,500 word chapters each for a total of 24 chapters.

Combining Michael Moorcock’s proven plotting process with the essential elements of my master plot formula, you simply add one extra chapter to each section (somewhere at the end of Act One, somewhere in the middle of Acts 2A & 2B, and somewhere at the beginning of Act 3 for four total new chapters) that is told from the antagonist’s/villain’s point of view (all other chapters are told from the protagonist’s/hero’s point of view) to give you six chapters per section:

Act 1

1. Old World Stasis

2. Inciting Incident

3. New World Flux

4. Pressure to Proceed

5. Physical Crossing

6. Villain’s P.O.V. #1

Act 2A

7. Things Come Together

8. Pinch Point

9. Villain’s P.O.V. #2

10. Betrayal Set-up

11. False Victory

12. Midpoint Twist

Act 2B

13. Things Fall Apart

14. Punch Point

15. Betrayal Pay-off

16. Villain’s P.O.V. #3

17. False Defeat

18. Spiritual Crossing

Act 3

19. Tool Up

20. Villain’s P.O.V. #4

21. False Solution

22. Separation

23. True Resolution

24. Aftermath

*note: the presented order of additional Villain P.O.V. chapters is not an unbreakable commandment, only a suggestion of where they usually occur, so feel free to rearrange them as best according to your particular story.

With each chapter amounting to 2,500 words and writing only half that per day (1,250) it will take you less than 2 months (48 days) to finish the first draft of your 60,000 word novel!


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Adron J. Smitley

Blog for writers on everything plot, character, and story structure architecture at: