Category Archives: Story Development

The Author’s Journey



We’ve all heard of the hero’s journey that focuses on what stories need to be complete.  But consider that it is equally important to explore what authors need to complete stories.

Many story development methods look first to construct plot, characters, and thematic message.  Then they direct an author to fashion a story that follows the hero’s journey or a series of genre-specific scenes or beats.

In contrast, let’s look toward the author’s journey – the stages through which all writers pass on their way from concept to completion of their novel or screenplay.

There are  four primary stages in the author’s journey:

1. Inspiration

2. Development

3. Exposition

4. Storytelling.

Here’s a brief description of each:

Stage One: Inspiration

The Inspiration Stage begins the moment we have an idea for a story.  This might be an overall concept (computer geeks are transported to the old west), a plot twist (a detective discovers he is investigating his own murder), a character situation (Ponce de Leon still lives today), a thematic topic (fracking), a character study (an aging rock star who is losing his licks) a line of dialog (“Just cuz somthin’s free don’t mean you didn’t buy it.”), a title (Too Old To Die Young) or any other creative notion that makes you think, that’s a good idea for a story!

What gets the hair on your writerly tail to stand up isn’t important.  Whatever it is, you are in the Inspiration Stage and it lasts as long as the ideas flow like spring runoff.  You might add characters, specific events in your plot or even write a chapter or two.  A very lucky writer never gets out of this stage and just keeps on going until the novel is completely written and sent out for publication.

Alas, for most of us, the Muse vanishes somewhere along the line, and we find ourselves staring at the all-too-familiar blank page wondering where to go from here.  Where we go is to Stage Two: Development.

Stage Two:  Development

In the Development Stage we stand back and take a long critical look at our story.  There are likely sections that are ready to write, or perhaps you’ve already written some.  Then there are the holes, both small and gaping, where there’s a disconnect from one moment you’ve worked out to the next one, bridging over what you can intuitively feel are several skipped beats along the way.  There are also breaks in logic when what happens at the beginning makes no sense in connection to what happens at the end (like the Golden Spike if the tracks were a mile apart).  There are characters that don’t ring true, unresolved conflicts, and expressed emotions that seem to come out of nowhere.  You may find thematic inconsistency or may even be missing a theme altogether.

And so, the work begins – tackling each and every one of these by itself, even while trying to make them all fit together.  By the end of the development stage, you’ll have added detail and richness to your story and gotten all the parts to work in concert like a well-turned machine, but it probably wasn’t easy or pleasant.

Eventually (thank providence) you’ll have all the leaks plugged and a fresh coat of paint on the thing.  You now know your story inside and out.  But, your readers won’t.  In fact, you realize that while you can see your beginning, ending and all that happens in between in a single glance, all at once, your readers or audience will be introduced to the elements of your story in a winding sequential progression of reveals.  You also realize you have quite unawares stumbled into Stage Three: Exposition.

Stage Three: Exposition

You know your story, but how do you unfold it for others?  Where do you begin?  Do you use flash backs or perhaps flash forwards?  Do you mislead them?  Do you keep a mystery?  Do you spell things out all at once, or do you drop clues along the way?

There are endless techniques for revealing the totality of your story, many can be used simultaneously, and each one adds a different spice to the journey.  Like a parade, every float and band has a position designed to create the greatest impact.  And when you have all that figured out, you are ready to write as you begin the Storytelling Stage.

Stage Four: Storytelling

Storytelling is all about word play and style.   Whether you are writing a novel, a screenplay or a stage play, there are media-specific manners of expression and conventions of communication, but within those there is plenty of room to maneuver artistically.

Before we send it out the door, we writers shift and substitute and polish until (almost regretfully) we let it go, just like a parent bundling up a child for school.  In the end, as Da Vinci’s famous saying goes, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

So, Inspiration, Development, Exposition and Storytelling are the four stages of story development that nearly every writer travels through on the way from concept to completion.

In summary

By following the author’s creative journey, the story development process is never at odds with a writer’s Muse.  So story building becomes a smooth and comfortable  endeavor that encourages invention and boosts the motivation to get it done.

Our StoryWeaver story development software was designed to guide you through all four stages of the author’s journey to build your story’s world, step by step.

Tear Your Story Apart

By necessity, authors are so focused on what they are putting into their stories that they often don’t think about what isn’t there.  Yet the early stages of story development only create a framework – a skeleton – and for a story to truly take shape, become organic, and take on a personality, many additional details will be needed.

Here’s a simple technique you can use to add depth and breadth to any story.

First, write a brief one or two sentence description of the core of your story.  For example, here’s a thumbnail description of a story my son and I for years have threatened to write:

Snow Sharks (Don’t Eat Red Snow)

Thumbnail for Snow Sharks:

The government has been developing a new breed of shark that lives in snow rather than water for use as mobile land mines in places such as Siberia or the Arctic.  A transport plane carrying them crashes in a storm high in the Rocky Mountains.

Now, we ask questions about each sentence in our thumbnail:

Questions about the first sentence:

The government has been developing a new breed of shark that lives in snow rather than water for use as mobile land mines in places such as Siberia or the Arctic.  

1. What branch of the government is involved?

2. Is this sanctioned or rogue?

3. Who is/are the scientists behind this?

4. How long has this program been going on?

5. How close are they to a final “product?”

6. Can the sharks breathe air?

7. Do they require cold (can they live in heat)?

Questions about the second sentence:

A transport plane carrying them crashes in a storm high in the Rocky Mountains.

1. What kind of plane?

2. How many sharks was it carrying?

3. Do they all survive?

4. Where was the transport taking the sharks?

5. Why couldn’t they wait until after the storm?

6. How many crew members are on board?

7. What are their jobs?

8. Do the crew members know what they are carrying?

9. Do any sharks survive?

10. If so, do the sharks kill all the survivors?

11. Is there anything in the wreckage that reveals the cargo, its nature and who is behind it?

12. Is the crew able to contact their command center before crashing?

13. Are they able to convey their location?

14. Is there a rescue beacon?

15. Does the plane carry a “black box.”

As you can see, each question is like a thread you can pull – a story thread that can open up a whole new aspect of your plot progression and character arcs.

If you were to answer each of these questions, your story would expand from that simple two-sentence thumbnail into a much richer story.

Then, you could ask questions about each sentence in the new, expanded story and grow it even larger very quickly.

If you already have a story, be it just an outline, a short synopsis, or even a complete draft, asking questions like these about key expository sentences in your manuscript can help offer alternatives to what may be a cliche story line, or to add more detail or subordinate plot lines that enrich the fabric of your overall story.

In summary, the point is that you don’t have to bang your head against a blank page trying to come up with ideas.  Just tear your story apart with as many questions as you might reasonable ask, and it will grow like baseless rumor on the internet.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver

The Master Storyteller Method

Perhaps the greatest hurdle in writing is the attempt to bring structure to a story without putting your Muse in a straight jacket.

Often structure is brought into the picture too soon, clamping your passion into an iron maiden that pierces it more deeply with every turn of a structural screw until it bleeds out entirely.

In contrast, writing with purposeless abandon creates a jellyfish of a story: an amorphous blob of subject matter with no spine, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

The Master Storyteller Method was designed to bring passion and structure together seamlessly, at the right place and the right time in the story development process.

When first starting to write, our ideas usually come fast and furious. Many of them are little snippets: a notion for a line of dialog, a location in which some action will take place, the basic concept for a character, or perhaps a plot twist. Sometimes, we begin with no more than a period of history or a topic or an ethical message that we’d like to explore in our book or screenplay, and the more we think about it, the more ideas we get.

Like the pieces to a jigsaw puzzle, each story concept is separate, and what’s more, we haven’t seen the picture on the box so we don’t even know that we’re trying to build. What we are doing at this stage is developing a Story World – basically a realm of our interests or subject matter that is all of the same basic topic or genre, but really isn’t a story yet.

As the story world becomes more complete, we begin to get a sense of the story we want to tell. In fact, a single Story World can give birth to many different stories, such as with Harry Potter, Anne Rice’s Vampire Saga, and the Star Wars Universe.

The Master Storyteller Method provides techniques developing your story’s world and discovering who’s in it, what happens to them, and what it all means.

Your story world is like a map of the material you’d like to explore. Your story will be the specific path you take across it. Think of your Story World as a beautiful unspoiled landscape, untouched by the hand of man. You are a pioneer who is the first to see that gorgeous valley and your mind envisions a glorious city to be built there that works in harmony with the environment and provides an orderly life for its inhabitants.

You would not do well to have come with a predetermined “most efficient” city plan with all the streets and locations laid out with complete disregard to the terrain – to simply be stamped onto the land. Rather, you should look at the lay of the land and determine where a road can go straight and where it must go around a hill or a stand of trees to retain and even maximize the beauty of the scenic route.

Sometimes, alas, a tunnel must be drilled through a hill as it is the only way to get to a view, or a roadbed cleared through the trees so you can see the forest for them. But more often than not, if the landscape of your story is the guiding organizing property and the structure conforms to it, it will be a far finer city experience in the end.

The Master Storyteller Method gently creates a freeform structure: a means of organizing your story world that is both free and has form.

Eventually, you will have platted out your story city so that all the most impressive landmarks are left unaltered and there is an unbroken pathway that will convey your reader from one to the next until the sum total of your purpose in telling the story can be seen an appreciated.

But before you pave those roads and commit to construction, you’ll want to be sure you have made all the best choices and that no better alternatives have emerged during your efforts to refine and revise your city plan.

What you need is an objective way of double-checking that all the traffic will move smoothly, that the unexpected twists and turns in the road have a reason to be laid out that way and that no roads come up short or run into dead ends.

The Master Storyteller Method employs an interactive spot-check for all essential structural points and a guide against which you can compare your story-plan to see where and how far you may have diverged from a consistent structure.

Keep in mind that no structure has to be perfect in a finished work. Still, you’ll want your structure to be as sound as possible without undermining the very concepts that drew you to want to write this particular story in the first place. In the end, it is a judgment call for the author as to whether drifting off structure does too much harm or is okay in any given case.

The main point is that that no one reads a book or goes to a movie to experience a perfect structure but rather to have their passions ignited. So if it comes to a choice between an exciting thing and a structural thing, go with the excitement whenever you can, but be sure never to break structure completely or your readers or audience will not be able to cross that gap and will cease to follow you on your journey.

The Master Storyteller Method is at the core of the StoryWeaver story development software I designed to help authors get from concept to completion of their novels or screenplays, step by step.

Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator, StoryWeaver

Stories Need Head Lines and Heart Lines

Stories aren’t just about the struggle to achieve a goal. That’s just the logistics of the plot. To capture the heart, stories must also include a character whose beliefs come under fire, drawing him or her to the point where they must either change their beliefs or stick to their guns. Stories may be quite interesting with only one of these two threads, but those that incorporate both capture the hearts and minds of the readers or audience.

The Core of Your Protagonist

The Protagonist is one of the most misunderstood characters in a story’s structure. When creating your Protagonist, don’t let him or her get bogged down with all kinds of additional dramatic jobs that may not be necessary for your particular story.

It is often assumed that this character is a typical “Hero” who is a good guy, the central character, and the Main Character. In fact, the Protagonist does not have to be any of these things. By definition, the Protagonist is the Prime Mover or Driver of the effort to achieve the goal. Beyond that, he, she, or it might be a bad guy (such as an anti-hero).

Being the Central character just means that character is the most prominent to the audience. For example, Fagin in “Oliver Twist” is perhaps the most prominent, but he is certainly not the Protagonist. So, a Protagonist may actually be less interesting than the Antagonist, or may actually be almost a background character.

In addition, the Protagonist is not always the Main Character, who could be any one of the characters in your story who represents the reader or audience position in the story.

So, don’t feel obligated to attach all those other qualities to your Protagonist if your story might be improved by having other characters fulfill those roles.  The only attribute your Protagonist absolutely needs is to be the one with the unshakable drive toward reaching the Goal.

May the Muse be with you!  And you might want to help her out a bit with my StoryWeaver Story Development System.  Try it risk-free for 90 days!

Melanie Anne Phillips

Your Story’s Ending: Success or Failure?

A story without a clear indication of success or failure is a failure with your readers or audience. You need to work out exactly how the audience will know the goal is achieved or not.

This might seem obvious in an action story, but may be much more difficult in a story about character growth.

Success and Failure don’t have to be binary choices; they can be matters of degree. For example, the effort to bring back a treasure may fail, but the adventurers discover one large ruby that fell into their pack. Or, someone seeking true love might find love but with someone who is rather annoying.

Whether either of these examples is a partial success or a partial failure depends largely on how you portray the characters’ attitudes to the imperfect achievement. To ensure a sense of closure in your readers/audience, make sure they know exactly how things end up on the success/failure scale.

Grow Your Story from a Log Line

This technique is excerpted from our StoryWeaver Story Development Software.

Introduction

First, write a log line for your story. A log line is a concise one-sentence description of the essence of a story.

A good way to approach this is to consider If someone asked you “What’s your story about?” how would you respond?

That can be a tough question to answer! After all, you’ve probably done a lot of thinking about your story and have all kinds of bits and pieces you might like to include.

Still, you aren’t likely to tell them every single idea you have for your story.  That wouldn’t have a spine or a central thread. It would just be a big cloud of creative notions and probably a bit boring since you wouldn’t be actually telling them your story but telling them about the things you want to include in your story.

What they really want to know is the gist of your story – a short description of the plot, the principal characters, and perhaps the setting and genre. But trying to boil down all your ideas into a concise description that does justice to your concept and captures the essence of your topic can seem well nigh impossible.

Here is some additional information to help you get it done:

Creating a log line centers your story, provides it with an identity, and ensures that all your story development work will be guided by this beacon so your story becomes sharply focused and every element is clearly connected to the hub. It is like when a huge cloud of dust and gas condenses into a solar system and ignites into a sun around which all your story concepts orbit.

Without a log line, a story often remains just a cloud and the telling of such a story tends to meander aimlessly. Rather than forging ahead with a clear direction, it stumbles forward, tripping over its own unfocused feet and landing in the lap of your readers or audience with a dull thud as an amorphous lump with no form, no purpose, and no meaning. Now isn’t that sad, perhaps even pathetic? So let’s avoid that.

As you write your log line, think about the story any initial material you may have already developed or have in mind. Think about the reason you want to write this particular story in the first place, and then write a log line that embraces that.

Once you have your log line, it becomes the seed from which your story can grow with focus and purpose. In the steps that follow we’ll draw on your Notes and also develop new material to expand your log line into a full-blown story concept called a synopsis that includes all your major plot events, your principal characters, your thematic topic and message, and the elements of genre that give your story its personality.

Tips:

A log line sums up the essence of what your story is about in a concise little nugget.

For example, a log line for Hamlet might read:

A prince of Denmark seeks revenge against his uncle for murdering his father and feigns insanity to buy time to plan the best method, but ultimately fails to achieve his goal.

Now clearly everything that makes Hamlet amazing is missing from the log line. But it does serve to capture the gist of what is going on and most important answers the question “What’s Hamlet about?”

For a longer example, here’s a log line for Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:

At Christmas time, an unhappy and miserly man has isolated himself from emotional attachments as a shield against his own childhood pain of loss and rejections, but through the intervention of three ghosts who force him to confront his past, present and future, he ultimately sees how he has victimized both himself and others, repents, seeks to make amends and rediscovers the joy of Christmas.

Though this log line meets the requirement of being a single sentence, it’s a run-on sentence. That defeats the purpose of refining your story concept until it’s sharp as a tack.

A better attempt would be:

A wealthy but stingy businessman who has become bitter due to great personal losses in his youth learns the value of giving after being visited by three ghosts on Christmas eve.

In this shorter version there’s a lot of important and meaningful material that wasn’t covered, but the longer the log line, the less focused your story concept becomes. Of course, the Log Line Police are not going to bust down your door and confiscate your keyboard if you exceed one tight sentence, but the point here is to boil down the heart of your story to its essence in the least number of words you can manage.

Now it’s your turn to write a log line. After you do, make sure it is only one sentence. And no cheating by trying to cram more information into it by writing a big long convoluted James Joyce sentence. Seriously – you’d be surprised how many writers hate leaving anything out. They hate it so much they would rather bloat their log line to the point it is unusable rather than lose a single thing, which completely defeats the purpose!

Don’t do this! The whole point of this exercise is to get your wonderful, passionate, inventive, compelling story boiled down to one dull, boring (but informative) line.

Example:

The example log line we’ll be using for the next few steps is:

A sheriff is trying to stop a gang of cutthroats from repeatedly robbing his town.

Sound like dozens of cliché stories you’ve read or seen before, right? Your story’s log line might seem the same way at this stage. Not to worry.  As we progress through the next few steps, you’ll see this simple example expand and refine until it becomes a truly rich story world, just as yours will.

This article is excerpted from our StoryWeaver Story Development Software.

How to Master the Creative Process

Writers often begin the story development process by thinking about what their story needs: a main character/protagonist/hero, a solid theme, a riveting plot and, of course, to meet all the touch points of their genre.

Because this is just the beginning of the process, they usually don’t have much of that worked out yet. And so, they are faced with the daunting task of figuring out their story’s world, who’s in it, what happens to them, and what it all means before they even write a word. This can throw a writer into creative gridlock right out of the gate and can get so frustrating that the Muse completely deserts them.

Fortunately, there’s a better way. Rather than asking what the story needs, we can turn it around and ask what the author needs. What is the most comfortable sequence of activities that will lead a writer from concept to completion of their novel or screenplay?

As varied a lot as we writers are, there are certain fundamental phases we all go through when coming to our stories. In fact, we can arrange the entire creative process into four distinct stages:

  1. Inspiration
  2. Development
  3. Exposition
  4. Storytelling

The Inspiration Stage begins the moment we have an idea for a story. This might be an overall concept (computer geeks are transported to the old west), a plot twist (a detective discovers he is investigating his own murder), a character situation (Ponce de Leon still lives today), a thematic topic (fracking), a character study (an aging rock star who is losing his licks) a line of dialog (“Just cuz somthin’s free don’t mean you didn’t buy it.”), a title (Too Old To Die Young) or any other creative notion that makes you think, that’s a good idea for a story!

What gets the hair on your writerly tail to stand up isn’t important. Whatever it is, you are in the Inspiration Stage and it lasts as long as new ideas flow like spring runoff. You might add characters, specific events in your plot or even write a chapter or two. A very lucky writer never gets out of this stage and just keeps on going until the novel is completely written and sent out for publication.

Alas, for most of us, the Muse vanishes somewhere along the line, and we find ourselves staring at the all-too-familiar blank page wondering where to go from here. Where we go is to Stage Two: Development.

In the Development Stage we stand back and take a long critical look at our story so far. We now have quite a few ideas and there are likely sections that are ready to write, or perhaps you’ve already written some. But there may be other areas that are a bit lean or even downright sketchy, hanging by only the thinnest of story threads.

What’s needed now is to grow each of those ideas to add more substance. So, story point by story point we add richness and detail until every notion we generated in Inspiration has become a fully developed concept. What’s there looks good, but what about what isn’t there?

Even though each idea is now fully formed, in between them may be story holes, both small and gaping, and breaks in logic when what happens first makes no sense in connection to what happens later. Then there might be characters that don’t ring true, unresolved conflicts, and expressed emotions that seem to come out of nowhere.

And so, the work begins – filling the space between your ideas and trying to make them all fit in the same story. By the end of the development stage, you’ll have added detail and richness to your story and added all the pieces needed to fill the gaps.

Eventually (thank Providence) you’ll have fully developed your ideas and plugged all the leaks. But what you have now is more like a box of snarled threads than a fabric. The pieces are all there but they aren’t yet working together. You realize you need to integrate your individual ideas so they can work in concert. You also realize you have quite unawares stumbled into Stage Three: Exposition.

Exposition isn’t just about revealing story points to your readers or audience. It is even more about pulling all of those threads together so they become a yarn.

Here you will consider how one story point affects another, and how plot impacts character impacts theme impacts genre. Stories are holistic, and every piece should inform all the rest and, conversely, be informed by all the rest. In this way, your story becomes organic and transcends the pieces from which it is made.

And when you have all that figured out, you are ready to begin the final stage: Storytelling.

Storytelling is more than word play and style. It is also about deciding how to weave the threads of your story as it unfolds. Scene by scene or chapter by chapter you’ll lay out the arcs of your characters and their relationships with one another, you’ll carry your plot through twists and turns, you’ll subtly build your theme into a powerful message, and you’ll grow your genre into a unique reader or audience experience.

And lastly, before we send our creation out into the world, we writers shift and substitute and polish until (almost regretfully) we let it go, just like a parent bundling up a child for the first day of school. StoryWeaver can’t help you find the resolve to write “The End,” but as Da Vinci is credited with saying, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

–Melanie Anne Phillips

This article is excerpted from our StoryWeaver Software

50 Sure-Fire Storytellling Tricks | Number 1

#1 – Building Size (Changing Scope)

This first technique holds audience interest by revealing the true size of something over the course of the story until it can be seen to be either larger or smaller than it originally appeared. This makes things appear to grow or diminish as the story unfolds.

Conspiracy stories are usually good examples of increasing scope, as only the tip of the iceberg first comes to light and the full extent is ultimately much bigger. The motion picture All The President’s Men illustrates this nicely. Stories about things being less extensive than they originally appear are not unlike The Wizard Of Oz in which a seemingly huge network of power turns out to be just one man behind a curtain.

–Melanie Anne Phillips

Your Plot Step By Step!

Here are some general guidelines to help you structure your story’s plot, step by step.

Act One Beginning

The beginning of act one is the teaser. It may or may not have anything to do with the actual plot of the story. This is where you get the feel of the story and the feel of the main character. A good example is in Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the very beginning Indiana Jones replaces a statue with a bag of sand and then gets chased through a lot of booby traps. This actually has nothing to do with the story to come, but it sets the tone and grips the audience.

Act One Middle

The middle of act one is the set up of the situation and goal. Even though you should reveal the goal in this section, you don’t need to have the protagonist accept the goal.

If your goal requires a lot of preparation before starting on the quest, then you might want to have the acceptance of the goal by the end of this section and the preparation in the next section.

In contrast, if your protagonist needs to think or do something before accepting the goal and/or there is no preparation needed for the goal, then the acceptance of the goal can happen in the end section of the first act instead.

Act One Ending

By the end of this section everything should be ready to embark on the quest. All preparation, all acceptance is completed. Just as when you are going on vacation you turn off all the lights, pet the dogs, lock the doors, put the suitcases in the car, get in the car, put on your seatbelt, start the car and drive off out of sight… all this is the first act. The second act begins with the car on the road.

Act Two Beginning

This section presents the beginning of the quest. It is the start of the actual journey. In many stories, this is an upbeat or at least hopeful time. Everything goes as planned. Keep in mind that throughout act two the difficulties in achieving the goal are constantly increasing. This is the section before that starts to happen; when it seems as if the journey will be a piece of cake.

Act Two Middle

This is possibly the most important section you will write. It is the midpoint, the exact middle of your story.

Act two has in it, either in the this second or the end section, a special problem, often called a “plot twist.” The stakes are raised in an unexpected form, and in so-doing the whole picture is changed.

In an action story it will change what the characters think they need to do and make the goal more difficult to achieve. In a character piece, this problem makes it more difficult to resolve their personal problems; it complicates them.

Now you have a choice to make. If your plot twist will require reorganization or recovery by the characters, then it should be in this section. But if the plot twist simply sends things in a new direction, then it should be at the end of the next section.

Act Two Ending

Now you have either put the ground shaking problem in the previous middle section, or you are planning to put it in this one. Remember that if your problem requires reorganization of material or the scheme, then the problem should have been in the last section leaving this section for reorganization and/or recovery. If you want to put the problem in this section, make sure the problem does not require reorganization.

So you can have act two go out with a bang if you drop your plot twist right at the end of this section. Or, if the the bang was in the middle section you can have this section (and act two) go out with a whimper.

Now don’t let the name fool you, a whimper can be very effective. As an example, suppose in the middle of Act Two a natural disaster occurs as the Plot Twist bang. All the food the group has with them is scattered to the winds. After this disaster, all the food that can be found must be found.

The end section of act two in this story would involve finding the food, patching bags, rounding up lost horses, fixing what’s broken and so on, recovering. At the very last, everything is ready to go, and the man who is carrying the food sees a last grain of rice on a rock, picks it up, drops it in a bag, gets on his horse and leaves.

That moment with the single grain of rice is the whimper. It ends the act with a subtle sense of closure and the anticipation that Act Three will begin with a new sense of purpose for the characters.

Act Three Beginning

Act three is the buildup to and, of course, the climax itself. All the plot points in the story have been set up in the first act, developed in the second, and the third act is where everything comes together for better or for worse.

The beginning of the third act is a response to the plot twist of the second act. If you put the twist in the middle of the second act, then the characters spent the remaining part of act two recovering from that set back and getting ready to start again. In such a case, the beginning of act three feels like the beginning of the quest all over again – with renewed resolve.

If you put the twist at the end of the second act, then it dropped like a bombshell and changed the whole purpose of what the characters are trying to achieve. In this case, act three begins with the characters setting off in a whole new direction than at the beginning of the quest.

Either way, the reader/audience should be made to know that this is the start of the final push toward the ultimate climax or reckoning.

Act Three Middle

Throughout the story, although the Protagonist and Antagonist may have come into conflict, there have always been extenuating circumstances that prevented an ultimate conflict. In the middle of act three, these circumstances are dismantled, one by one, until nothing more stands between these two principal characters.

At the end of this section it is clear that a final face-off is inevitable.

Act Three Ending

This is climax of your story. It is where the antagonist and protagonist meet for the final conflict. Your entire story has been leading up to this moment, with rising tension and suspense. All the stops are removed and the momentum cannot be turned aside.

When the Protagonist and Antagonist meet, they start with the small stuff, sizing each other up. This is true whether it is an action-oriented story or a character study. The dynamics are the same – only the weapons they use are different.

In action stories there will be physical weapons. In character stories, the weapons will be emotional. In stories about a single character grappling with personal problems, his or her demons come to bear, slowly but directly, building to the final breaking point.

In all kinds of stories, this section builds as the two camps (and their followers) pull stronger and stronger weapons out of their arsenal, since the smaller ones have proven ineffective.

The battle quickly becomes more heated, more imperative, and riskier. Eventually both the antagonist and protagonist have employing all the weapons they have at their disposal except one. They each retain a trump card, one last weapon that they have not yet used for fear that it might backfire or take them down along with their opponent. With the use of this last weapon the battle will be decided, one way or another.

The final moments of the ending of act three might take one of two directions:

1. The weapon (physical or emotion) is employed and the results are seen as the smoke clears.

2. The weapon is employed and the result is left in limbo until the conclusion (epilog, dénouement or “wrap-up”)

Denouement

The Denouement is defined as the final part of a play, movie, or narrative in which the strands of the plot are drawn together and matters are explained or resolved.

The denouement is the aftermath and epilogue. The climax is over and it’s time to take stock of all that has happened. This is both a cool down period for the reader/audience after the excitement of the climax and a tidying up of loose ends.

How did it all turn out? What was gained and what was lost? Was the effort to achieve the goal successful or not? Or, what the Goal only partially achieved, and was it enough to satisfy the characters?

In addition, you may want to show where things are likely to proceed from here, now that everything is said and done. You may even want to jump to the future to let your readers/audience in on what will become of your characters in later life.

In a sense, the conclusion is a new “set-up.” Just as the opening of your story set-up the way things are when the problem begins, the conclusion sets up how things are, now that it is over.  What kind of new situation has come into being through the changes wrought by the climax?

Your Plot

Now your plot (and your story as a whole) have come to an end.  And while every plot has it own unique twists and turns, these common touch points can help guide you along the way.

This article is drawn from the author’s
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