Structure of Plot: The Outer Journey

Last updated 2.5.20

The outer journey is also known as plot, structure, narrative structure, and ‘what happens.’


“The what happens is your plot,” says James Scott Bell.

“Plot structure consists of the specific events in a [story] and their position relative to one another,” says Michael Hauge.

“Structure,” says Larry Brooks, is “What comes first, what comes next, and so forth . . . and why. And no, you can’t just make it up for yourself. There are expectations and standards here.”

“Structure is the strategic organization of the events in a narrative to create a coherent and compelling experience of story and ideas,” says Karen Pearlman.

“Plot,” says Robert Kernen, is “The arrangement of events in a story to elicit a desired effect on the audience.  A series of events organized to progress from inciting incident through rising action to climax and finishing with the resolution.”

“Some people confuse plot for story and think it is enough to have a sequence of events lined up, one after the other. A story is just a string of information about a cast of characters in a given time and place. . . . A plot is the method by which that story takes on tension, energy, and momentum and urges the reader to keep turning pages,” says Jordan Rosenfeld.

“The common definition of Plot is that it’s what happens in a story,” says Ansen Dibell.  “That’s useful when talking about completed stories, but [not] when we’re considering stories being written…. Plot is built of significant events in a given story–significant because they have important consequences. … Cause and effect: that’s what makes plot.”

John Truby agrees:  “Plot is any description of a sequence of events: this happened, then this happened, and then this happened.  But a simple sequence of events is not a good plot. … A good plot is always organic, and this means many things:

  • An organic plot shows the actions that lead to the hero’s character change or explain why that change is impossible
  • Each of the events is causally connected.
  • Each event is essential.
  • Each action is proportionate in its length and pacing.
  • The amount of plotting seems to come naturally from the main character rather than being imposed by the author on the characters. …
  • The sequence of events has a unity and totality of effect. As Edgar Allan Poe said, in a good plot, ‘no part can be displaced without ruin to the whole.'”

Stanley D. Williams (and many other masters) would emphasize that first criterion for a good plot:


Like with the inner journey, certain kinds of “outer journey stuff” should happen at certain points in the story so that Hero’s journey feels meaningful.  There are many ways to approach organizing the outer journey stuff, and, here, I’m going to overlay the seven ways of which I am aware (supplemented here and there with one-off quotes.)

Why overlay them?  Because (i) I think it’s cool how everyone’s saying the same thing differently, and (ii) I like how if my go-to approach isn’t sparking any ideas, looking at that same part of the story from another approach’s view of things almost always does the trick.


A little fine print before we get there: The book covers are Affiliate Links, which means I get a commission if you decide to make a purchase through these links, at no cost to you.  In other words, if you’re thinking of buying copies of these books for your home craft library anyway, buying said copies through these links is a no-brainer way to help support this site. And I appreciate it. Thank you!

1. 3-Act/4-Part Structure

512blpg1xapl51hycbjbvmlPromoted by Larry Brooks, Syd Field, Robert McKee, Dara Marks.

Each Part or Act (with the middle act divided into two) are equal in length, about a quarter of your story each, and each Part is separated by a Turning Point.  Each Act/Part has a unique mission and purpose that provides the context for the scenes it contains, which must fit the Part’s contextual criteria, including how the hero behaves, or the story won’t feel right.  The hero acts differently in each Part (helping to form the character arc).  I’m using my notes on Mr. Brooks’ version here.

2. The Hero’s Journey

51473ovy5zl51iupnlxvsl51cei9ferulP51vejn9ikmlromoted by Christopher Vogler, Joseph Campbell, Marilyn Horowitz, Paula Munier.

The Hero’s Journey approach describes the typical adventure of the archetype known as The Hero, the person who goes out and achieves great deeds on behalf of a group, tribe, or civilization.  The order of the hero’s stages as given here is only one of many variations–the stages can be deleted, added to, and drastically reshuffled without losing any of their power.  The symbols used (dragon, elixir, etc.) are just that–symbols; they can be changed infinitely to suit the story at hand.  I’m using Mr. Vogler’s version here.

3. Michael Hauge’s 6 Stages

51edtb11dblFor Michael Hauge, in a properly structured story, the right events occur in the right sequence to elicit maximum emotional involvement in the reader and audience.  Structuring a story effectively involves two stages of development: dividing your plot into three acts and making use of specific structural devices.

4. Blake Snyder’s 15 Beats

41hhirrusvlFor Blake Snyder, three acts wasn’t enough guidance; it left too much to the unknown, too much room to screw it up.  So he fleshed the three acts out a bit and noted fifteen key scenes, or ‘beats,’ that should appear in every story.  All 15 beats should fit on one piece of paper. Try to use only one or two sentences to explain each beat. If you can’t, you don’t have a beat yet.

5. John Truby’s 22 Steps

51xkvj2biyqlFor John Truby there are twenty-two crucial events, or stages, in the unfolding of a plot.  Depending on the length of the story, there can be more than twenty-two steps (usually more reveals; Mr. Truby emphasizes that Plot is driven by reveals), or fewer, with seven steps being the mandatory minimum (I starred them).  The steps can also be reordered. In fact, Mr Truby’s order does not line up with the order most of the other masters promote, and I’ve left his steps in his proposed order.

6. 8-Box

I first learned this from a couple of authors; I’m not aware of any craft masters who promote it.

The idea is that when you get stuck with your story, you can quickly draw on a sheet of paper an 8-box diagram of four columns and two rows and jot in the boxes what you’ve got so far and, from there, figure out what you’re missing based on the kind of stuff that happens in the boxes that are blank.  Each box has two elements that you can fill in: (i) a turning-point scene at the end of each box-section and (ii) the main action of each section that takes the character from turning point to turning point.  In other words, this is just another way of looking at 4-Part structure, with each of the four columns being one of the four parts.

7. Brian McDonald’s Fairytale Structure

41dy2bpxmoqlBrian McDonald says that one of the things that tends to hang us all up when we’re writing is that we feel we need to make our stories more complicated. We feel that this will make them better, but it never does. It just makes the story muddy.  For Mr. McDonald, all stories are made up of seven steps that everyone, writer or not, already knows, because they form the structure of fairy tales.  It all starts with: Once upon a time…


Pre-PlottingSelf-Revelation (what Character will learn about himself), Need (what Character Needs to feel whole), and Desire (his Goal) represent Hero’s overall range of change, creating the story’s frame.  Starting with the frame of the story helps you determine the ending, which helps you make sure that every step moves Character toward the resolution.


Once upon a time ... [there were Characters in a World.]
And every day … [Character acts out his habit of behavior. It establishes a pattern, a pattern to be broken by…]


Opening Image: something that resonates.
Opening Image:  The very first impression of what the story is–its tone, its mood, the type and scope of the story–are all found in the opening image.  It’s an opportunity to show the hero’s starting point.  The opening and final images should be opposites, a plus and a minus, showing change so dramatic it documents the emotional upheaval that the story represents.
Killer Hook – doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s a visceral, sensual, emotionally resonant, promise of intense and rewarding experience ahead.  (Closer to the first scene, first 5 pages, the better)


Stage 1: Setup – (1) Introduce the Hero; (2) Create the Identification; (3) Show the hero living his ordinary life.  You’re saying to the reader: this is who my hero was yesterday.  This is the life he’s been living for some time now.  Create the identification before revealing any Flaws.
The Ordinary World.  The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with his situation or dilemma. He’s shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history. Some kind of polarity in his life is pulling him in different directions and causing stress.  If you’re going to tell a story about a fish out of his customary element, you first have to create a contrast by showing him in his mundane, ordinary world.
Ghost and Story World: Hero is living in a world, and an event from the past that still haunts the hero in the present.  This ‘ghost‘ is an open wound, the source Hero’s psychological and moral weakness, the great fear that is holding him back from taking action on his goal.
Weakness and Need*:  Hero has a Flaw that’s ruining his life.  It is psychological, in that Character is damaged in some way, and it may also be moral if it’s causing him to hurt others.  This Flaw is often demonstrated by a Problem Hero is having at the beginning of the story (not the main problem).  He also has a Need that he must fulfill in order to have a better life.
Part 1 – Set-up (Character is like an Orphan; his only need is to survive the day)
Mission and Context:  set up the story, make the rest of the story parts meaningful:

  • Introduce Hero – (i) save the cat, (ii) what’s he doing now, (iii) what’s his current goal (the bridging goal), (iv) hint of inner demons to overcome (what he doesn’t know he needs) — start of the character arc; (v) demonstrate his flaw and its symptoms
  • Introduce situations that will become a can of worms starting at PP1
  • Stakes – establish what hero has at stake in normal life
  • Foreshadowing – events to come: PP1, main antagonist, payoffs; create the tension, but don’t explain; tell us everything while telling us nothing
  • Prepare for Launch – everything in Part 1 is directed and builds toward PP1

Problem (Column 1A, Box 1): What is the main character like?  What’s wrong with him?  What’s wrong with his world?
Set-up (1-10%):  Sets up the hero, who he is, why he needs to change, and at least 6 symptoms of his flaw that need fixing and will get paid off (fixed) later; introduces or hints at all the main characters who play a major role in Hero’s journey; sets up the stakes and the goal of the story, and it does all this with vigor, so that it hooks the reader.

Theme Stated (5%):  Somewhere in the first few pages, someone (usually not the main character) will pose a question or make a statement (usually to the main character) that is the thematic premise of the story.  Nothing obvious, it’s just there.


Until one day ... [an inciting incident occurs, marking the true beginning of your story.]
Key Point Box 1
: Things get complicated.  Moment of Change.
10%; Turning Point #1:  Opportunity – Something changes, the character is presented with an opportunity.  Something happens to the hero that creates in them a desire, and that desire pushes him into a new situation.  The 10% desire is NOT the main story goal.  it’s just a desire to go or do something new.  Often there’s a change in geography.
The Call to Adventure.  The hero is presented with a problem, challenge or adventure. Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, pushing the hero to face the beginnings of change.
Catalyst (10%):  A life-changing event that often comes in some form as bad news, usually something Hero’s got little to no control over.  And yet, by the time Hero’s adventure is over, it’s what leads him to happiness.
Inciting Incident:  An event from the outside causes Hero to come up with a goal and take action.  It connects Character’s Need to his Desire.  Before this, Character is typically paralyzed in some way.  This event gets him out of his paralysis and forces him to act.


Process (Column 1B, Box 2): What leads the MC to tackle the main problem? What is holding her back and what makes her take the plunge?
Stage 2: New Situation – In the new situation, they’re learning the rules, getting acclimated.  Generally the character thinks it’ll be easy and fun to be in this new place.
Debate (10-23%):  The debate section is just that–a debate, and it must ask some form of the question Will/Can Character go on this adventure? The Debate section is the last chance for the hero to say: This is crazy. And we need him or her to realize that. Should I go? Dare I go? Sure, it’s dangerous out there, but what’s my choice?  Stay here?  This is your chance to show how daunting a fear this adventure is really going to be.  
Refusal of the Call.  The hero is reluctant. He fears the unknown and tries to avoid the adventure, however briefly. Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.
Meeting with the Mentor. The hero meets a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives Hero training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey. Or Hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.  The mentor can only go so far with Hero. Eventually Hero must face the unknown by himself.  Sometimes the Mentor is required to give Hero a swift kick in the pants to get the adventure going.
Desire* Identified:  The Desire is your hero’s particular goal.  It provides the spine for the plot.  Start the goal at a low level so that you can increase its importance–its intensity and stakes–as the story progresses.
Allies Identified:  Once hero has a goal, he usually gains some allies to help him overcome the opponent and achieve the goal.  Consider giving the ally a goal of his own; it’s the quickest way to make him seem like a complete person.

Opponent* and/or Mystery Begins:  Often when there’s a clear opponent, Character may not know who it is or may not know everything there is to know–the opponent is a mystery, mostly hidden, like an iceberg.  Other times there is no clear opponent, and the story is instead based around a mystery.  The opponent should be competing for the same goal as the hero. 
Fake-ally opponent:  A character who appears to be an ally of the hero but is actually an opponent or working for the main opponent offers Hero his assistance.  His entry into the story is very flexible.


And because of that ... [Hero begins to explore what happens as a result of what you’ve set up in Act 1.  Everything should be cause-and-effect.  Whatever Hero does, it must be in reaction to the inciting incident.]

Turning Point Box 2: Launch into the main plot.  Hero starts taking action to achieve his goal despite the main conflict.
25%; Turning Point #2: Change of Plans – Something happens that transforms the new situation into a specific visible desire.  Hero thought all he had to do was get along in this new place, but something happens that makes hero realize he needs to do THAT instead.  This establishes hero’s outer motivation, his visible goal/finish line, and hero begins pursuing it. This is what your story is about.
Crossing the Threshold. At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.
Break into Two (23%): Character leaves his old world behind and proceeds into a world that is the upside down version of that.  And because these two worlds are so distinct, the act of actually stepping into Act Two must be definite.  The Hero cannot be lured, tricked, or drift into Act Two. The hero must make the decision himself.  That’s what makes him the hero anyway–being proactive.
First revelation and decision; Changed desire and motive:  Hero gets a surprising piece of new information that forces him to make a decision and move in a new direction.  It may also causes him to adjust his desire and/or his motive.
Plot Point 1 (20-25% mark):

  • Change – something changes the hero’s status, plans, beliefs, needs
  • Story Goal – define the hero’s conscious new, scary, and challenging goal/need/want, which forces him to take action for the rest of the story
  • Antagonistic Force – reveal opposition; reader suddenly sees and understands it to an extent that evokes empathy and emotion (hold back something for MP and PP2).
  • Obstacles – create risk/obstacles/conflict that hero must overcome to achieve his goal.  Then make it worse.
  • More Stakes – imply consequences that will result from hero’s success and failure.



Drive:  The drive is the series of actions that Hero performs to defeat the opponent, and it comprises the biggest section of the plot. It begins with the hero’s Plan and continues through to his Apparent Defeat.  During the Drive the Opponent is too strong for Hero.
Plan*:  The plan is a set of guidelines, strategies, training, prepping, etc. that Hero will use to overcome his opponent and reach his goal.  His initial plan should fail.
Opponent’s plan and main counterattack:  Opponent’s got his own plan, and his attacks are sprung on Character.  The more intricate the opponent’s plan and the better you hide it (for amazing reveals) the better the plot will be.

Stage 3: Progress – Hero formulates a plan, and the plan seems to be working.  There’s still conflict, but whatever obstacles the hero encounters, they’re either bypassed, overcome, delayed, or avoided in some way.  The plan seems to be working, but things become more complicated.  Conflict in first half of act two comes from obstacles inherent in the goal.
Fun and Games (25-50%):  This is where you pay off the promise of your concept, what’s cool about it.  We’re not so concerned with the forward progress of the story–the stakes won’t be raised until the midpoint–as we are concerned with having fun.  The fun and games section answers the question: Why am I reading or watching this story?
Part 2 – Reaction/Response (Character is now a Wanderer with a purpose)
Mission and Context: makes Part 1 make sense, puts everything in jeopardy, hero does what’s required before he can attack.

Complications (Column 2A, Box 3): How does Character struggle with the new changes? Who helps her? What is the relationship with the person who helps her–romantic? friend? mentor?
Show hero responding/reacting to the new situation created by PP1: immediate reaction to PP1; regroups/retreats (reluctance to accept new situation, responsibility, etc.); takes stock of options, follows options without a target in sight
Tests, Allies, and Enemies. The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.  The hero is forced to make allies and enemies in the special world, and to pass certain tests and challenges that are part of his/her training.
Attack by ally:  Ally confronts Hero about Hero’s approach to this problem, essentially becoming Hero’s conscience, saying “I’m trying to help you reach your goal, but the way you’re going about it is all wrong.” Typically, Hero denies this and defends what he’s doing.

B Story (27%):  In most stories, the B Story is a romantic or other relationship, it’s the story that carries the theme of the story, and it gives us a break from the A story, the goal/main conflict.  It’s in line with the A story, but it’s new in scope.  It’s where Character is nurtured, the place from which she draws strength.  It often involves characters we haven’t seen yet, often the upside-down version of the characters in the world of Act One.


Pinch Point Box 3:  Major revelation or antagonist makes a play; the stakes are raised.
Pinch Point (37.5%)
:  Reminder or example to the reader (and maybe the hero) of the nature and implications of the antagonistic force; we see it for ourselves directly.  Foreshadow and parallel the ending and the theme if possible (do this everywhere).


Conflicts (Column 2B, Box 4): High action time! This is where you pay off the awesome stuff your concept promises.  Character is playing in the world, fighting, training, learning, getting ready for something big.
Approach. The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special World. The hero comes at last to a dangerous place, often deep underground, where the object of the quest is hidden.  In many myths the hero has to descend into hell to retrieve a loved one, or into a cave to fight a dragon and gain a treasure.  Sometimes it’s just the hero going into his/her own dream world to confront fears and overcome them.
Part 2 Events:

  • Hero seeks info, explores options, hides, runs, etc; reactionary behavior 
  • Hero’s attempts fail, but he learns from them (flaw should be why he fails)
  • Hero is acting with limited awareness of what’s really going on
  • Hero’s destination is the MP, which will shift the direction, raise stakes, increase problems


And because of that … [Something happens, as a result of what’s happened so far, that shifts the character’s perspective and the direction of the story]

Turning Point Box 4: Now it’s personal; it’s hitting the character at home big time. Point of no return.
50%; Turning Point #3: Point of No Return – Hero must become so committed at the midpoint that they burn the bridges behind them and there is no returning to their original ordinary life.  The hero’s life, as she’s been living it, is over.
The Ordeal. Near the middle of the story, Hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts his greatest fear. He faces the possibility of death, brought to the brink in a fight with a mythical beast.  This is a critical moment in any story, where hero appears to die and be born anew.
Midpoint (50%):  A story’s midpoint is either (i) an ‘up’ where the hero seemingly peaks (though it is a false peak) or (ii) a ‘down’ when the world collapses all around the hero (though it is a false collapse) and it can only get better from here on out. When you decide which midpoint your story is going to require, it sets the context for the rest of the story.  Also, stakes are raised at the midpoint.  Fun and games are over; time to get serious.  The midpoint has a matching beat, the All is Lost beat.  These two beats are the inverse of each other.  The rule is: It’s never as good as it seems to be at the midpoint and it’s never as bad as it seems at the All is Lost point.  Or vice versa.  The midpoint is either false victory or false defeat, and the All is Lost is the opposite of it.
MidPoint (50%):

  • New information that pulls back the curtain on what’s really going on and changes the contextual experience and understanding for the reader and maybe the hero
  • Adds new weight and dramatic tension; problems worse, stakes higher
  • Provides catalyst for hero’s change from response mode to attack mode



Stage 4:  Complications and Higher Stakes – Two things happen as a result of the character making the full commitment: (1) it becomes more difficult to accomplish the goal and (2) it becomes more important to accomplish the goal.  The obstacles are greater and the stakes are higher.  It gets tougher and tougher to achieve the goal until there’s a major setback. Conflict in the second half of Act two comes from the outside world closing in, bigger forces beyond those inherent in the goal.
Bad Guys Close In (50-68%): This is the point where the main conflict decides to regroup and send in the heavy artillery.  It’s the point where internal dissent, doubt, and jealousy begin to disintegrate the hero’s team.  The forces that are aligned against the hero, internal and external, tighten their grip. Evil is not giving up, and there is nowhere for the hero to go for help. He is on his own and must endure.
Part 3 – Attack (Character is now a Warrior, Attacking specific target(s))
Mission and Context:  Summon courage and proactively solve the problem

  • Attack the problem
  • Start trying to overcome inner demons standing in his way
  • Make changes to himself, to his plan

Danger (Column 3A, Box 5): Things are getting serious. Playtime is over. The threat is VERY real.
The Reward. Hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing and surviving death. Sometimes he receives the tangible or intangible treasure he’s been seeking; sometimes he reconciles with someone. There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.


Pinch Point Box 5: Another major revelation, another attack by the antagonist.  Character might try something and fail. Another raise of the stakes.
Pinch Point (62.5%)
: Antagonist moving forward too, aware of what hero is doing and overcoming antagonist’s own flaws, weaknesses, and obstacles.


Death (Column 3B, Box 6): The Dark Night of the Soul.  All is lost.  There is a serious setback or sacrifice at this point. The mentor may die, or the relationship fall apart. Character gets a whiff of death.  Death can be emotional or physical.  
Optional Lull – All hope is lost moment just before PP2.
All is Lost (68%): It’s the opposite of the midpoint in terms of being an ‘up’ or ‘down,’ and is most often called a false defeat, because even though things look hopeless, like total defeat, they’re not.  Still, all aspects of Hero’s life are in shambles. Wreckage abounds.  Also, there should be a whiff of death.  Often, this is where good mentors go to die, presumably so Hero can discover he had it in him all along. The mentor’s death clears the way to prove that.  But death can be integral to the story or just something symbolic.  This death clears the way for Hero’s new life.
Dark Night of the Soul (68-75%): This section answers the question, How does Character feel about experiencing the All is Lost moment. It can be quick or not, but it’s there.  It’s the point just before Hero reaches way, deep down and pulls out that last, best idea that will have himself and everyone around him.  But at the moment, that idea is nowhere in sight.  Only when we admit our humility and our humanity, and yield our control of events over to Fate, do we find the solution. We must be beaten and know it to get the lesson.
Apparent Defeat:  Two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through the story, Hero suffers an apparent defeat. He believes he’s lost the goal and his opponent has won.  He hits rock bottom.  In a story that ends tragically, this could also be an apparent victory that begins Hero’s downfall to ruin.


Until finally … [this event, whatever it is, starts the chain of events that leads to your climax]

Turning Point Box 6:  Wait! A spark of inspiration! Hero has one last idea; he just hopes it works.
75%; Turning Point #4: Major Setback – Something happens to hero that makes it seem to us, and often to the hero as well, that all is lost.  Oh no, there is no way the hero can possibly reach the goal/finish line now.  The plan they had is out the window.  The bridges they had that would have allowed them to turn back are gone.  The hero’s left with only one option…
Break Into Three (77%):  Thanks to the B Story, All is Lost, and the Dark Night of the Soul, Hero finally knows how to resolve the main conflict and achieve his goal.  Now he just has to do it.  The classic fusion of the A and B stories is Hero getting a clue from the main B-story character that makes him realize how to solve both: beat the bad guys and solidify the relationship.
Second revelation and decision; Obsessive drive, changed desire and motive:  Hero has another revelation that shows him victory is still possible. He resumes his quest to achieve the goal, only this time he’ll do anything to win.  He may also modify his goal and motive again.
Plot Point 2 (75%):

  • Reveal final new info, now everything hero needs is in play.  Save some piece of information to reveal here that will be powerful and meaningful, the last piece of the puzzle
  • Launch the hero into making a decision that forces the resolution of the story, transitioning him from warrior to hell-bent selfless hero

The Road Back. About three-fourths of the way through the story, Hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home.  But he’s not out of the woods yet.  He’s pursued by the vengeful forces from whom he has stolen the reward/elixir/treasure.



Stage 5: Final Push – Hero makes one last, all or nothing, do or die, final push.  From here to the climax, the hero gives every ounce of courage, strength and commitment she can to either achieve her goal or die trying.  If Hero is not putting everything on the line to get what she wants, we don’t care.  If the character doesn’t care enough about the goal to risk everything, we’re not going to care enough about it to keep reading.  It all has to be at stake in this last final push.
Finale (77-99%):  Hero applies the lessons he’s learned and resolves the main conflict and the B story.  All the bad guys are dispatched in ascending order.  All of Hero’s flaw symptoms should be fixed/paid off.  Hero leads the way into a new and improved world.
Part 4 – Resolution (Character is now a Martyr, doing what must be done to Resolve the issue)
Mission and Contextpayoffs and resolution

  • No new info, everything the hero needs is already in play
  • You can still surprise, you just have to do it with info already foreshadowed, referenced, or in play

Resilience (Column 4A, Box 7): Character is struggling to survive, but willing to fight to the death, whether emotional, professional, physical.  This part is NOT about winning–it’s about fighting despite likely failure.
Demonstrate that he’s conquered his inner demons that stood in his way; this should be what allows him to solve the main plot problem.

Audience revelation:  If you’re using dramatic irony (where the audience knows things Hero doesn’t know), this is a good time to put the hero in danger without him knowing it.  For example, we could learn that the fake-ally opponent is working for the bad guy.  The benefit of this is that it puts some separation between Hero and audience, allowing audience to see Hero change.
Third revelation and decision:  Hero realizes the last needed bit of information about the opponent, and it makes Hero feel stronger and more determined to win.  For example, Hero could learn the fake-ally opponent’s identity or the major opponent’s identity.

Gate, gauntlet, visit to death:  Hero realizes this is life and death (physical, psychological, professional), and he summons the courage to push forward; life isn’t worth living if he doesn’t.  This is the most flexible step; move it as you see fit.


Key Point Box 7:  Climax. Final Battle. Character usually triumphs; evil loses.
The Resurrection
. At the climax, Hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.  He is transformed.
90-99%; Turning Point #5: Climax – Hero resolves the problem.  He either achieves the goal or he fails, or he gets one goal but not the other, or he changes his mind and makes a higher choice.  It can end however you want as long as it’s clearly resolved… but the story isn’t over; where the climax occurs depends on how much aftermath you need.
Hero is the primary catalyst for the resolution, making the decisions, performing the actions, and willing to die for it; PP1 strings are all tied up.
Battle*:  Everything is converging here.  The emphasis of the battle should be on whose ideas or values win out.  Hero clearly wins and fulfills his goal and need… or not.

“Since the most difficult choice for your protagonist is in the climax of the film, use the insight gained through dilemma to find the character’s worst fear,” says Jim Mercurio. “Bring the character’s nightmare to life by forcing her to face the choice that is the most difficult to make. This climactic decision also allows for significant growth in the form of the character arc.”


Self-revelation*:  Hero finally sees the truth about himself, and it either makes him stronger or it destroys him.  A great self-revelation should be sudden, shattering (whether positive or negative), and new, something the hero didn’t know about himself until this moment.  Much of the quality of a story is based on the quality of this moment.
Moral Decision:  Hero chooses between two courses of action, each of which stands for a set of values and a way of living that affects others.  This is this action that proves what Hero has learned, or not, in the self-revelation.

Return with the Elixir. Hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure (often a tangible representation of the inner change) that has the power to transform the world as Hero has been transformed.  The adventure would be meaningless without returning with this treasure, elixir, lesson, or special knowledge or experience, and he’s doomed to repeat the adventure until he does.


And ever since that day ... [‘they lived happily ever after” is the most familiar denouement, just something that lets us know what the life of your protagonist is like hereafter.]

Resolution (Column 4B, Box 8): Character has very clearly won or lost the day and must now live in the new world. She must accept who she now is.  
Stage 6: Aftermath – We must see the new life Hero is living as a result of having completed the journey, or, if Hero dies, we need to at least be allowed to experience the emotion that comes with that.  This is the reader’s reward.
New Equilibrium*:  Once Hero’s Need and Goal have been met, or not, everything returns to normal, or to a new normal, with Hero now living at a higher or lower level of being.

Ending Point Box 8:  Final Image, circles back around to the opening image. Might give the hint of a new problem afoot in a following story.
Final Image (100%): This is the opposite of the opening image. It is proof that change has occurred and that it’s real.


Well, that’s it for me. What about you?  What plot approaches do you favor?  Tell us in the comments!

If you found this post helpful, please feel free to share it (there are share buttons below), and if you found it particularly helpful . . .
Buy Me a Coffee at

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to the newsletter. It’s a monthly-to-quarterly newsletter to share news and free worksheets and whatnot. We’ll send you a 19-page Character Development Workbook just for joining.

Lastly, if you’d like to receive the Tools in your inbox as soon as they post, you can sign up for the feed right here.



The Outer Journey in Lisa Unger’s Crazy Love You.  See you then!

2 thoughts on “Structure of Plot: The Outer Journey

So... whadaya think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s