Sunday, October 18, 2009

Story Elements Checklist for brainstorming index cards

This week I will be posting separate posts for Act One, Act Two, Act Two, Part 2, and Act Three which will detail the different elements of each act, but I thought that for those of you already doing index cards, it would be useful for you all to have just a basic list that you can use when you’re watching a film or doing the index cards for your own story, so here it is.



* Opening image

* Meet the hero or heroine

* Hero/ine’s inner and outer desire.

* Hero/ine's ghost or wound

* Hero/ine’s arc

* Inciting Incident/Call to Adventure

* Meet the antagonist (and/or introduce a mystery, which is what you do when you’re going to keep your antagonist hidden to reveal at the end)

* State the theme/what’s the story about?

* Allies

* Mentor
 (possibly. May not have one or may be revealed later in the story).

* Love interest 

* Plant/Reveal (or: Set ups and Payoffs)

* Hope/Fear (and Stakes)

* Time Clock (possibly. May not have one or may be revealed later in the story)

* Sequence One climax

* Central Question

* Act One climax


* Crossing the Threshold/ Into the Special World (may occur in Act One)

* Threshold Guardian/Guardian at the Gate (possibly)

* Hero/ine’s Plan

* Antagonist’s Plan

* Training Sequence (possibly)

* Series of Tests
* Picking up new Allies

* Assembling the Team (possibly)

* Attacks by the Antagonist (whether or not the Hero/ine recognizes these as coming from the antagonist)

* In a detective story, Questioning Witnesses, Lining Up and Eliminating Suspects, Following Clues.


* Completely changes the game

* Locks the hero/ine into a situation or action

* Can be a huge revelation

* Can be a huge defeat

* Can be a “now it’s personal” loss

* Can be sex at 60 – the lovers finally get together, only to open up a whole new world of problems


* Recalibrating – after the shock or defeat of the game-changer in the midpoint, the hero/ine must Revamp The Plan and try a New Mode of Attack.

* Escalating Actions/ Obsessive Drive

* Hard Choices and Crossing The Line (immoral actions by the main character to get what s/he wants)

* Loss of Key Allies (possibly because of the hero/ine’s obsessive actions, possibly through death or injury by the antagonist).

* A Ticking Clock (can happen anywhere in the story)

* Reversals and Revelations/Twists.

* The Long Dark Night of the Soul and/or Visit to Death (also known as: All Is Lost)


* Often can be a final revelation before the end game: the knowledge of who the opponent really is

* Answers the Central Question



The third act is basically the Final Battle and Resolution. It can often be one continuous sequence – the chase and confrontation, or confrontation and chase. There may be a final preparation for battle, or it might be done on the fly. Either here or in the last part of the second act the hero will make a new, FINAL PLAN, based on the new information and revelations of the second act.

The essence of a third act is the final showdown between protagonist and antagonist. It is often divided into two sequences:

1. Getting there (Storming the Castle)

2. The final battle itself

* Thematic Location - often a visual and literal representation of the Hero/ine’s Greatest Nightmare
* The protagonist’s character change
* The antagonist’s character change (if any)

* Possibly ally/allies’ character changes and/or gaining of desire

* Possibly a huge final reversal or reveal (twist), or even a whole series of payoffs that you’ve been saving (as in Back to the Future and It’s A Wonderful Life)

* RESOLUTION: A glimpse into the New Way of Life that the hero/ine will be living after this whole ordeal and all s/he’s learned from it.

* Closing Image



All the information on this blog and more, including full story structure breakdowns of various movies, is available in my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors workbooks.  Any format, just $3.99 and $2.99.

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amaxon DE

Amazon FR

Amazon ES

Amazon IT

If you're a romance writer, or have a strong love plot or subplot in your novel or script, then Writing Love: Screenwriting Tricks II is an expanded version of the first workbook with a special emphasis on love stories.

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file)

Amazon US

Barnes & Noble/Nook

Amazon UK

Amazon DE


Bobby Mangahas said...

Alex ---

always glad to be reviewing this stuff. It's a huge help. I finished my first novel the pantser way, so maybe I'll try the card thing again.

Sorry I missed you at Bouchercon this year. I'm sure it was a lot of fun.

Wendy Wagner; said...

When I look at this list, I worry that I'm not smart enough to come up with all these plot points! But I'm committed to the process now, so I guess I'll just white-knuckle-down and try it. Gulp.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

RJ, you can't go to everything. The party's always there when you need it.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Winnie, good grief, don't worry about coming up with all these plot points NOW!!

I'm going to be posting articles and examples explaining them starting today, and I think you'll be surprised at how many of these elements you already have in your story and ideas. I'm just trying to make you aware of them, that's all.

Anonymous said...

So good to be going over this again. I've been trying to remember and pull it all together since you were our HCRW speaker. This is a HUGE help.
Thanks so much.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Great to see you here, Petrina!

Yeah, you know, I need it just as much as anyone right now.

laughingwolf said...

you refine things i learned from trottier's 'bible', thx alex...