Toolbox – Plot and Conflict

July’s Toolbox topic was Plot and Conflict. First we discussed plot vs. character.


We revisited the Aristotle Incline, the universal three act plot structure. The three act structure has stood the test of time and is used in plays, television and film.

  • Act 1: exposition/introduction/set up/beginning – The main characters are introduced. Act 1 culminates with the protagonist facing an incident or problem (first turning point), which will change their life and raises a question (hopefully answered at the end of the story).
  • Act 2: Rising Action/middle – The protagonist attempts to resolve the situation and the questions that arise from the turning point. They need to learn new skills or development emotionally to find a way to overcome the situation or antagonist.
  • Act 3: Resolution/end – the story (and subplots) are resolved (smallest first), ending in a climax in which the protagonist uses their new skills and personal development to overcome, completing the character arc.

Methods of creating the plot were discussed, including the snowflake method and pantsing vs. plotting.

  • Pantsing – you put pen to paper and just let your imagination run riot. You never know where you’ll end up.
  • Plotting – forming a framework, based on beginning, turning point, rising action – with subplots, clues and obstacles – a climax and wrapping up of subplots and character arc. This can be sketchy or detailed.
  • Snowflake method – Start with a sentence to summarise the story. Next describe the story set up, the characters, major conflicts and how the story ends. Expand on each character, their storyline, motivations, goals. With each step, you expand on the story until you have a detailed outline.

We discussed the ‘Hero’s journey’: uncertainty to commitment, tested with consequences, decending into ‘the underworld’ (can be literal or symbolic), confronting their own weakness. Small tests culminate in a big test (climax) and their reward or treasure is achieved. They then return to their ‘real world’, confront the original situation where they need to reassess and deal with the problem, using what they have learned on their travels.

I was reminded of two quotes:

  • The villian’s job is to produced a hero. If he doesn’t create one, then he fails.
  • Everyone is the hero in their own story (even the villian).
Books recommended by members were:
  1. Chapter after Chapter by Hether Sellers
  2. Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (on beats in a storyline).
  3. Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt
  4. Level up your Life by Steve Kamb. (Heroes Journey)
  5. The Snowflake Method – talk at ACFW, 2011, by Randy Ingermansen

So much to discuss in so little time. After the meeting had ended, we decided we’d need to revisit Plot and Conflict.

-Karen J Carlisle.


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