Friday, May 16, 2014

Story Elements Checklist for Generating Index Cards

Thanks to everyone who made it to our Stealing Hollywood's Magic panel, even at ten in the morning after a Bourbon Street pub crawl! You were a great crowd.

As promised, I'll be posting some follow up posts for you to read and even print out if it's useful for you. First of all, here's the story elements checklist of what elements tend to end up in which acts of the three-act structure. Next I'll post some examples of Act Climaxes.

But save all this for later! You're in New Orleans. Go enjoy this fabulous city.

- Alex



(Act I is the first thirty minutes of a movie, the first 100 pages or so in a 400 page book).

• Opening Image

• Meet the Hero or Heroine

• Hero/ine’s Ordinary World

• Hero/ine’s Inner and Outer Desire

• Hero/ine’s Problem

• Hero/ine’s Ghost

• Hero/ine’s Special Skills

• Hero/ine’s Arc

• Inciting Incident/ Call to Adventure

• The Offer S/he Can’t Refuse (possibly)

• Sequence One Climax

• 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?

• Introduce Allies

•  Introduce Mentor

• Introduce Love Interest 

• Plants/Reveals (or: Set ups and Payoffs)

• Hope/Fear (and Stakes)

• Ticking Clock (possibly. May not have one and may be revealed later in the story)

• MacGuffin (not all stories have a MacGuffin)

• Central Question/Central Story Action

• Hero/ine’s Plan (may be at beginning of Act II)

• Act One Climax



(Act II:1 is minutes 30-60 of a movie, pages 100-200 or so in a 400 page book).

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

• Threshold Guardian/Guardian at the Gate (possibly)

• Hero/ine’s Plan (may be introduced in Act One)

• Antagonist’s Plan (may be introduced in Act One)

• Picking up new Allies

• Assembling the Team

• Training Sequence (in some stories)

• Series of Tests

• Bonding with Allies/Love Interest

• The Promise of the Genre

• 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


(Act II:2 is minutes 60-90 of a movie, pages 200-300 or so in a 400 page book)

• 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) This is very often the Act II Climax.

• In a romance, The Lover Makes a Stand.  This is very often the All is Lost Moment and Act II Climax.


• Is often the All is Lost scene, but also can be a Final Revelation before the end game: the knowledge of who the opponent really is. Or the hero/ine finally sees the whole problem or mystery in a different way. And most often these two scenes, All is Lost and the Final Revelation, combine in a double punch.

• Answers the Central Question



(Act III is minutes 90-120 of a movie, pages 300-400 or so in a 400 page book)

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)

There is often a quick reassembling of the team. A Plan is made to storm the castle. There may even be some quick training and gathering of tools. And the team will often fight the first battle, in which we see the growth of individual members of the team, and there may be another heartbreaking loss.

Then the hero/ine will almost always go in alone to face the antagonist in:

2. The final battle itself 

• Thematic Location - often a visual and literal representation of the Hero/ine’s Greatest Nightmare (even in a comedy)

• 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


Want more?  Screenwriting Tricks for Authors and Writing Love, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, II are available in multiple formats, $3.99 and $2.99.


Amazon DE 

Smashwords (includes online viewing and pdf file) 


Ariella Moon said...

I really enjoyed your workshop at RT. Thanks for posting this outline.

Jessica Hawkins said...


Great presentation at RT! I found it very interesting & informative, which is how I got here. Working on an outline now. I signed up for your mailing list & am going to check out your book as well. Thank you for taking the time to share your tips.


Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Thanks, Ariella and Jessica! I wish we'd had all day, but it's all in the books. Hope you both had a great time in New Orleans.