How to Map Your Plot with the 7-Point Plot Structure

graph of seven plot points
Image by Lancy McCall

You’ve developed strong characters and the world you’ve created is awe-inspiring. Now what? If you’re like me, the idea to your story came to you in a flash. You may already have a scene or two written in your head. But what about the rest of the book? What happens between the beginning and the end? How do your characters get from one place to another?

These are the questions that I struggle with that story that’s been nagging at me in the back of my head. Since I started writing, I’ve studied different story structures from The Hero’s Journey to Save the Cat! I’ve learned about Inciting Events, Plot Points, and Pinch Points. But knowing the definitions of these terms didn’t help me figure out my process. And then I stumbled across a YouTube video collection featuring Dan Wells in 2010.

Now to be honest, I’d come across these videos previously in my exploration of writing and the message didn’t really sink in the first time. I had to struggle through one book and the planning of another before what Mr. Wells was saying really hit the mark for me.

Writing Process

Before we get into the meat of things, let’s talk about your writing process. Are you a discovery writer (pantser)? Or a plotter? Do you let your book inform you of where it’s going? Or do you outline the plot beforehand and write scenes based on your outline?

Personally, I mix it up. I often know where I’m going to end up, but no clue how I’m going to get there. I know some things that are going to happen, but not all. And typically, I write myself into a corner where I can’t see how I’m going to get where I need to be from where I currently am. Once I’m stuck, I go back to the drawing board to plot out what needs to happen. Eventually, I work out the issue and get unstuck. Many of the articles I’ve read and podcasts I’ve listened to suggest that, whether you’re a pantser or a plotter, you always plot your novel. Either you do it before you write or afterward when you’re editing and making sure everything lines up.

As a former project manager, I’m all about planning so I’ve been trying to find a process that lends itself to fully plotting out the book before I sit down to write. And I think I’ve found it. It’s helped tremendously in my current work-in-progress.

7-Point Plot Structure

If you do a quick Internet search, you can find tons of articles on what the 7-Point Plot Structure is. And if you read some of these, you’ll see they all differ slightly in what the points are and where they fall. The one I’m focusing on comes from Dan Wells. He has a series of YouTube videos that walk through his explanation of what these plot points are and how to use them. You can watch the videos for a more in-depth explanation, but I thought I would summarize what I got out of them.

For your reference, the first video is here.

Plot Points

The plot points in Dan Wells’ version are:

  1. Hook – Hero is in the opposite state to their end state. Lays the foundation for your character arc.
  2. Plot Turn 1 – Hero’s world changes from status quo to the new world. Introduces the conflict.
  3. Pinch 1 – Something goes wrong that forces the hero into action.
  4. Midpoint – Hero shifts from reaction to action. It is a conscious decision.
  5. Pinch 2 – Something fails that makes things seem hopeless. (Dark night of the soul.)
  6. Plot Turn 2 – Hero obtains the last thing needed to resolve the conflict.
  7. Resolution – Hero follows through on their decision from the midpoint. Everything in the story leads to this moment.

Plotting Order

The order that you should approach figuring out these points will help you derive the overall plot. Start with the ending, figure out the opposite of that ending (where they would start from to get there), then find the middle where the story turns. Repeat the process for each section you are looking at.

The plotting order is:

  1. Resolution (how the story ends)
  2. Hook (how it begins)
  3. Midpoint (middle of the entire story)
  4. Plot Turn 1 (middle between the Hook and the Midpoint)
  5. Plot Turn 2 (middle between the Midpoint and the Resolution)
  6. Pinch 1 (middle between the first Plot Turn and the Midpoint)
  7. Pinch 2 (middle between the Midpoint and the second Plot Turn)

The Process

Now that you know what these seven points are, what’s the process? This is where I had the aha moment.

Determine the Seven Plot Points for Each Subplot

Draw a table with each of your subplots at the top of each column. Below the first row containing your subplot titles, create seven rows (one for each plot point). We’ll use The Matrix as an example like Mr. Wells did in his videos.

Plot PointActionCharacterRomanceBetrayal
(Prologue)Ice Monster prologue! (Trinity fights and escapes from the Agents.)
HookNeo is an underachieverNeo is an underachieverNeo is aloneCypher is their friend
Plot Turn 1Neo learns about the MatrixMorpheus tells Neo he’s the OneNeo meets TrinityCypher makes a deal with the agents
Pinch 1Agents kidnap NeoNeo is the new guy; can’t do anythingTrinity isn’t interested in NeoCrew discovers an unauthorized trip into the Matrix
MidpointNeo escapes the MatrixNeo meets the OracleNeo falls in love with TrinityCypher tells the Agents where they are
Pinch 2Morpheus is capturedOracle tells Neo he’s not the OneNeo thinks she loves someone elseNeo spots the trap, they try to escape
Plot Turn 2Neo becomes the OneNeo realizes the power is in himNeo risks his life to save Trinity and MorpheusCypher attacks in the real world
Climax / ResolutionNeo defeats the AgentsNeo becomes the OneTrinity falls in love with NeoCypher betrays Morpheus and kills the crew

Focus on the plot for one subplot at a time and don’t pay attention to the plot points of the other subplots while you’re doing this. This step is simply to get down what the story behind each subplot is without regard to how it fits with the other plots.

Tip: If you do this in a spreadsheet, you can hide the other columns to help focus on one subplot at a time.

Another tool you can use to do your plotting in is Plottr. This software helps you visualize your plot points. I’ve taken Mr. Wells’ table above and plotted them in Plottr so you can see what it looks like.

7-point plot in Plottr software

Arrange the Subplot Points in the Story

Once you’ve determined what your plot points are for each subplot, you’re ready to make a second pass to spread out all the plot points or events in the story. This is where you figure out the order of events and which ones can align in the same scene to create powerful moments in the story.

Here’s what it looks like in a table format:

ActionCharacterRomanceBetrayal
Ice Monster prologue! (Trinity fights and escapes from the Agents.)
Neo is an underachieverNeo is an underachieverNeo is alone
Neo learns about the MatrixNeo meets Trinity
Agents kidnap Neo
Neo escapes the MatrixMorpheus tells Neo he’s the One
Neo is the new guy; can’t do anythingCypher is their friend
Trinity isn’t interested in Neo
Neo falls in love with Trinity
Cypher makes a deal with the agents
Crew discovers unauthorized trip into the Matrix
Neo meets the OracleCypher tells the Agents where they are
Oracle tells Neo he’s not the One
Neo thinks Trinity loves someone else
Neo spots the trap, they try to escape
Cypher attacks in the real world
Morpheus is capturedCypher betrays Morpheus and kills the crew
Neo risks his life to save Trinity and Morpheus
Try/Fail Cycles (resuing Morpheus)
Neo realizes the power is in him
Neo becomes the OneNeo becomes the OneTrinity falls in love with Neo
Neo defeats the Agents

And here’s what it looks like in Plottr (two images w/ overlap):

You can see how the plot points on one story line or subplot may line up differently from another subplot. (Keep in mind that even though the labels at the top say “scenes”, they are still just plot points. They may very well end up being scenes, but currently, they are just points on the map.)

One thing I like about Plottr is that you can easily drag and drop your scenes to anywhere on the timeline. This makes it easy to move things around and line them up where they make sense.

Additional Resources

Here are some additional articles and resources on the Seven-Point Structure that go into more detail on each plot point:

Wrap-Up

By figuring out the key plot points for each subplot, you can start laying the foundation for your entire book. Once you know how each storyline evolves, the structure of what happens and when unfolds and gives you an idea of what your finished book will look like.

Now you just have to go write those scenes.

What kind of story structure do you use?


Follow me on Twitter at @LancyMcCall for more discoveries, insights, and surprises from my writing journey.

Happy Writing!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Ed Skinner

    I’m a big fan of the Seven Point structure. Thanks for the comprehensive treatment.

    1. Lancy McCall

      You’re welcome. Laying it out like this helped me get my mind around all the different subplots and how they needed to line up.

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