Monday, October 15, 2012

NaNoWriMo Prep: Story Elements Checklist

As any of you who are brainstorming Index Cards right now have found, this is not an orderly process. You will be coming up with scenes in no order whatsoever, all over the structure grid. Some that you will have no idea where to put. And so while this week I will be working ahead through story structure in a relative order, I want to re-post the whole general Story Elements Checklist, so you have a whole overview of scenes and story elements you will be needing beyond whatever act we happen to be talking about at the time.

When you start out brainstorming index cards, you can make cards for all of the elements below, even if you have no idea what those scenes might look like, because with only one or two exceptions (which I've noted below), these are scenes and elements that are going to appear in your story no matter what genre you're writing in.  

Even better - they're almost certainly going to appear in the Act in which I've listed them below.  There are exceptions, of course, but those are rare.  When you start looking at stories for where these elements turn up, and noticing how prevalent the patterns are, it will make plotting out any story so much easier you won't even believe it.   And I'm a big believer that just asking the question will get your subconscious working on the perfect answer.  Write out the card in the most general sense today, and you may well wake up with the perfect scene tomorrow morning.



* Opening image

* Meet the hero or heroine in the ordinary world

* 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. You may not have one or s/he 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

* Plan, Central Question, Central Story Action

* 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.

*Bonding with Allies


* 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)

* In a romance or romantic comedy, the All Is Lost moment is often a The Lover Makes A Stand scene


* 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

Now, I'd also like to remind everyone that this is a basic, GENERAL list. There are story elements specific to whatever kind of story you're writing, and the best way to get familiar with what those are is to do the story breakdowns on three (at least) movies or books that are similar to the KIND of story you're writing.

Which we will talk about next.

- Alex


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



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Hannah Y said...


When are you going to have audio version of your books?

Some of us lovers of novels don't always have the time to read from print.

Love your writing tips.

Cherise Kelley said...

I am so glad I picked up your book, "Screenwriting Tricks for Authors"! It has helped me realize WHY John Boorman's "Excalibur" (1981) is my favorite movie. It is not your genre, Alexandra, but if you haven't seen Excalibur, I think you would like it. The whole movie is a SETPIECE. Every. Last. Scene. It has my number one favorite ending, too, which Peter Jackson redid almost exactly in "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (2003).

Alexandra Sokoloff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Hannah, I appreciate the interest! It's not up to me, though.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

That's funny, Cherise, EXCALIBUR has been coming up a lot, lately. You're right, just stunning setpieces. I have it right next to me on my DVD shelf, maybe should rewatch it and see what the universe is trying to tell me!

Cherise Kelley said...

I nominate EXCALIBUR as a masterpiece in visual storytelling. Seriously.

Youthful appearances by Patrick Stewart and Helen Mirren don't hurt the movie, either. In fact, Helen Mirren's Morgana makes my list of the ten most memorable villains. And Arthur is on my list of the ten most memorable heroes...

This movie crops up in ALL the lists I am making while completing my workbook for your book, "Screenwriting Tricks for Authors." What does that tell you? (Besides that I am a sucker for all things medieval) :)