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3 Plot Formulas for Writing a Novel

May 30, 2024 (Last Updated June 25, 2024)

Marcy G.

The beginning stages of writing look different for everyone. No writing process is the process to follow; creativity can’t be limited to rules and practices. However, there are plenty of writing techniques that can serve as guidelines when mapping out a plot. We will be outlining three classic plot formulas for writing a novel, each with a brief explanation and key elements:


1. The Three-Act Structure

The Three-Act Structure is a simple, widely used storytelling structure that divides the story into three parts: setup, confrontation, and resolution. While reading the breakdown of the Three-Act Structure, have a popular fiction novel in mind (Harry Potter, Hunger Games, etc.) and try to align the story arcs with the key elements listed.

 Key Elements:

 Act One – Setup:

·      Introduction: Introduce the characters, setting, and the story world (world-building).

·      Inciting Incident: An event that sets the main story in motion.

·      First Plot Point: A significant event that changes the protagonist's world and leads to Act Two.


Act Two – Confrontation:

·      Rising Action: The protagonist faces increasingly difficult challenges. How do they respond?

·      Midpoint: A significant event that changes the direction of the story.

·      Second Plot Point: Another major event that contributes to the climax.


Act Three – Resolution: 

·      Climax: The highest point of tension where the protagonist faces the main conflict of the story.

·      Falling Action: The aftermath of the climax, resolving subplots.

·      Resolution: The conclusion of the story, tying up loose ends.

If you used The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins as your example, the Three-Act Structure is: Katniss Everdeen's world in District 12, the confrontation in the Games, and the resolution of her victory.


2. The Snowflake Method

The Snowflake Method, created by Randy Ingermanson, involves starting with a simple idea and gradually expanding it into a detailed and complex-rich story. This plot formula can be especially useful when writing a story that deals with multiple characters (including B-plots that enhance the story), complex ideas and themes, and required expositions to understand scenes and revelations.

Key Elements:

·      One-Sentence Summary: Summarize the story in one sentence.

·      One-Paragraph Summary: Expand the sentence into a paragraph outlining the major plot points.

·      Character Summaries: Create detailed descriptions of the main characters, including goals, traits, motivations, conflicts. etc.

·      Expanded Synopsis: Turn the one-paragraph summary into a one-page synopsis.

·      Scene List: Create a list of scenes based on the expanded synopsis.

·      Scene Summaries: Write a detailed description for each scene.

·      First Draft: Write the first draft of the novel using the scene summaries as guides.

·      Revisions: Revise and refine the draft until the story is complete.

For example, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton manages to follow multiple characters through the same journey and conflict, while deviating from the main conflict to explain genetic make-ups, the minutia of the control room in the park, and the history of the extinct. When you’re reading the story, you bounce from scene to scene as you read.


3. The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey, popularized by Joseph Campbell, is a narrative pattern that can be found in many myths, novels, and films.

Key Elements:

·      Ordinary World: Describe the hero's normal life before the adventure begins.

·      Call to Adventure: The hero faces a problem or challenge.

·      Refusal of the Call: The hero initially refuses the challenge or adventure.

·      Meeting the Mentor: The hero meets a mentor who provides advice or training.

·      Crossing the Threshold: The hero leaves the ordinary world and enters the adventure.

·      Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The hero faces challenges, makes allies, and confronts enemies.

·      Approach to the Cave: The hero approaches the most dangerous part of the adventure.

·      Primary Ordeal: The hero faces a major challenge, often a life-or-death moment.

·      Reward (“Seizing the Sword”): The hero gains a reward after facing the challenge.

·      The Road Back: The hero begins the journey back to their world.

·      Resurrection: The hero faces a final test and is transformed by the experience.

·      Return with the Elixir: The hero returns home with new knowledge or power that benefits the ordinary world.

 This plot formula can be tied to The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, which follows Frodo Baggins on a classic Hero's Journey to destroy the One Ring.


Keeping these plot formulas in mind can aid in structuring your novel, helping to ensure a compelling narrative arc. At the end of the day, putting words to the page is what ultimately matters, so take it day-by-day, page-by-page, and keep going. If you liked this blog, here are some more helpful topics on crafting your story:

Internal vs. External Conflict: How They're Used in a Story

Main Character Energy

How to Generate Book Ideas

Book Writing: How to Introduce Characters

Common Literary Devices: A Definitive Guide


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