Posted by: Kathy Temean | November 1, 2012

Screen Writing Plot Techniques for Novels

Everyone was buzzing after the June ’12 NJ SCBWI conference in Princeton. Just like this Panda Bee Bear sent in by Ann Belov for our October Illustration.  Ann was featured on Illustrator Saturday in June. 

So why was Panda Bee Bear buzzing?  She had heard how sweet Laurie Calkhoven’s workshop on Plot Points and Key Scenes was. 

Author Laurie Calkhoven talked about the use of screenwriting techniques to plot your novel. She pointed out three ways of looking at a three-act structure: beginning, middle, and end; setup, confrontation, and resolution; or situation, complication, and resolution.

            Act one, she said, should take up about 25% of the story. The opening scene is the doorway to the story, setting the tone and mood, and introducing the main character and his or her need. Plot point one is the climax of act one. It wraps up the action of the set-up, is an inciting incident that propels the main character into a new world governed by conflict.

            Act two is the longest act, taking up about 50% to 60% of the story. It needs two key scenes, two units of dramatic action as the characters meet obstacles—note the plural. A time clock may be ticking. A midpoint is a unit of action that spins the story along and keeps the plot from sagging. Then plot point two is the point of no return, and a final push to fill the character’s need. There may be a false ending, and readers are propelled into act three.

            Act three is the shortest act, the resolution, the catharsis. The main character does or doesn’t gets what he wants, or what he needs. The ending, the culmination of everything that went before, ideally is both unexpected and inevitable. The final resolution is a wrap-up, tying up loose ends (although a few may be left loose if there is a sequel coming). The characters are in a new normal, though the closing scene may mirror the opening scene.

            Any subplots need to have beginning middle, and end, although the climax of a subplot may come with plot point two.

            Laurie described her process as being the development of the character, writing down ideas for scenes, and then arranging those scenes.

Thanks to Jody Staton for sharing her notes about the workshop with us.

Do you have a success to brag about?  Let me know and I will be putting together a new Kudo’s post soon.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. This is a great way to look at plot. Thanks. Coincidentally, I attended a playwright critique group. Listening to their critiques was helpful to my writing as well.


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