The Master Plot Formula . . . or How to Plot the Perfect Story

I believe that every person has at least one good novel in them begging for release if only they had the time and patience and the proper amount of creative know-how. I’ve spent well over a decade and countless hours dissecting hundreds of novels and movies because of my obsessive fascination with all things plot. And I’ve taken information from many resources while adding original pieces of my own in creation of this writer’s cheat sheet I call “The Master Plot Formula” that will guide you to writing your best possible story:

-ACT 1-

1. Old World Stasis (the protagonist’s ordinary world of home, work and social life where stasis = death).

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).

3. New World Flux (the 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).

4. 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).

-ACT 2A-

5. Things Come Together (the fish-out-of-water protagonist makes new friends and enemies while shedding old flaws for new virtues as they progress toward resolving the central story conflict).

6. Pinch Point / Betrayal Set-up (the antagonist flexes their muscles in a minor way against the protagonist / someone who is jealous of or dislikes the protagonist schemes their future ruin behind the scenes).

7. False Victory (the protagonist and allies achieves their biggest success yet toward resolving the central story conflict while earning the full attention of the antagonist and their minions).

8. Midpoint Twist (a stunning revelation and reversal of fortune causes the momentum shift of the protagonist from reaction to proaction against the antagonist).

-ACT 2B-

9. Things Fall Apart (the protagonist’s team suffers internal dissension as external enemies close in).

10. Punch Point / Betrayal Pay-off (the antagonist flexes their muscles in a major way against the protagonist / the protagonist is stabbed in the back at the worst moment).

11. 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).

12. Spiritual Crossing (the depressed protagonist is struck with the inspirational epiphany to continue one last assault against the antagonist).

-ACT 3-

13. 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).

14. Separation (the protagonist is separated from all remaining allies so they can face the antagonist one-on-one as only the protagonist can).

15. True Resolution (the protagonist defeats the antagonist or dies trying).

16. Aftermath (the immediate effects of the protagonist’s victory or defeat).

*The Kickers: All protagonists must achieve character growth throughout and because of the adversity of their story. As the writer it’s your job to “kick” them toward that character growth, and here’s how:

ACT 1 Kicker: Somewhere during ACT 1 your protagonist demonstrates their emotional shield earned from a past traumatic event they carry around to protect them from future harm. Show don’t tell the protagonist hiding behind the false safety of their emotional shield they have no intention of discarding.

ACT 2A Kicker: Somewhere during the first half of ACT 2 either the protagonist or someone close to the protagonist notices the hindrance of their emotional shield weighing them down and expresses as much through dialogue, forcing the protagonist to question the true value of their emotional shield and the scary possibility of living without it.

Midpoint Twist Kicker: Somewhere during the Midpoint Twist the protagonist battles against maintaining hold of their emotional shield growing heavier as the central story conflict progresses. Here they briefly set the shield aside and for it we catch a glimpse of who they will become without it in a daring display of potential, though this moment is fleeting because they have not yet achieved their full character growth so they pick their emotional shield back up and hide behind it again out of habitual practice.

ACT 2B Kicker: Somewhere during the second half of ACT 2 the protagonist overcomes the heavy burden of their emotional shield, finally lays it down as the false protection they realize it for and steps away from it as a changed character.

ACT 3 Kicker: But change is a scary process, so somewhere during ACT 3 the protagonist briefly regresses and picks up their emotional shield, but now it proves too heavy a burden and doesn’t offer them protection as the changed protagonist they’ve become so they throw it aside forever and achieve full character growth.

There are 3 kinds of stories:

The first is one with a well developed plot but no character growth arc; if you master the first half of The Master Plot Formula without the Kickers then this is what you’ll write, a pointless story with lots of meaningless action happening to a static protagonist who never changes. Plotters fall into this category.

The second is one with a well developed character growth arc but no plot; if you master the second half of The Master Plot Formula without the logical stages of adversity (plot) then this is what you’ll write, a boring story with a changing protagonist who meanders through a random collection of trivial events that have no logical connection but for that they happen to the same person. Pantsers fall into this category.

The third is the diamond in the coal, that perfect combination of pressure and change which creates the meaningful story of an exciting protagonist who endures through adversity and by changing triumphs in a satisfying conclusion to their strife. Authors fall into this category.

Happy writing!

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

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Adron J. Smitley

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