The Ultimate Cheat Sheet to Plot


There is no one way to developing plot. Plotting. Pantsing. Both. But there are basic phases that writers need to think about.

1. The beginning. 2. The middle. 3. The end. But what I have found that new writers even struggle to do this. They need a model, a clear example of how others build their plot.

This is one exercise that I used to help me see plot structure in other stories in order to help me see my own.

I call it the Plot Cheat Sheet.

First, choose a book or movie that you love, or think is a close feel to your story idea. Get it in front of you.

Next use the outline below, and fill it in using that beloved story or movie’s plot. (I did it with Hunger Games, Divergent, LOTR, Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean, and lots of YA books I love.) Why? It gave me a clear understanding of how others build their plot. It made it simple. Then beside their plot, I inserted my own to see how it compared. Then I tweaked it, and then of course, I revised it until it fit my unique story. This exercise works!

Try it!

  • Opening set up– The MC is introduced in the “normal world”.
    • Catalyst– This first turn introduces the problem or event that causes a change in the MC and his world.
  • Reaction or new scenario– A new scenario occurs for the MC as a direct result of the choice the MC makes regarding the catalyst
    • Mini Crisis– This is typically the end of the first part of a three-act plan structure and is typically an event that occurs and changes everything, resulting in a new goal for the MC
  • MC moves toward their new goal–  It carries in it the “promise of the premise” of the story.
  • Subplots are typically woven into this section of the story
    • Point of no return– Typically the half-way mark of the story, this is the turn in which the MC experiences a false victory or defeat and can’t ever turn back on his journey
  • Complications– Stakes are raised as the “bad guys” close in and the MCs resolve is increasingly tested
    • Despair– All is lost for the MC as it seems he will never achieve his goals
  • Dark Night of the Soul – The MC falls into a depression, believing there is no hope
    • Transformation – This turns marks the end of the second act in the three-act structure and represents the “ah-ha” moment for the MC, as he figures out a way to face the final obstacles to his goal
  • Climax– The MC faces the final obstacle standing between him and his goal
    • Resolution– The final outcome of the final confrontation.

If you are more visual try these outlines:





After you have done this, you will have a clearer picture of where your story is going and you can pour your heart into writing. Later, you may need to stop again to outline the even more complex layers that have developed: Sub plots, character depth, backstory, etc. But hey, save that for another day.

(FYI–The outline I saved from some awesome writer, but can’t find the origin, Will find and add source soon!)

Happy writing.


Nova, signing off.




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