The Eight Sequence Three Act Structure For Novel Writing

My Plot Board..Sorry For The Poor Quality Of This Pic πŸ™‚

I’ve been studying Story Structure for a while now.

As many of you know, I was a Proud Pantser when I started this journey but over time, I came to see the need for change.
It may not be that way for everyone, since we all have different learning and creative styles and since every story presents itself to us differently, but for me some sort of “path” became necessary with this WIP. I’m not taking sides here…there is no “one right way” to the writing process, only the right way for you and your story.

I’m not a meticulous plotter…outlining scenes to the letter, but like I said…I needed a path. This WIP needed a path. Just a clear vision of where I was going.

I am a visual learner. My WIP plays like a movie in my head as I’m sure is the case for many writers.
That being said…I found that using the Eight Sequence Three Act Structure works best for me.
Again…you may hate it. But if you don’t have an overall structure for your novel in mind, you could miss crucial steps. Plus…if you’re teetering between pantsing and plotting, it won’t hurt to sit down and give it a try.
The pic above is an example of my visual learning. A story/plot board is pretty common for writers who plot. Problem was, I came across about a dozen before finding the information I needed to make this one.
It’s actually really simple and it uses info I already had in my head, but again….I had to see it for it to click.
This is the basic principle:
  • Movies, since way back when, in order to fit on film, were separated into 8 sequences, each being about 10-15 minutes long. Each sequence had a purpose. This sequencing system can also be used for novels. Read this article by Alexandra Sokoloff to see how and to also see a film broken down into these sequences (It’s great!!). Now…each sequence contains a number of scenes (you, the writer, decide how many). That’s what all those pink & green Post-It notes are on my board πŸ™‚ The Three Act Structure fits in nicely with these 8 sequences because Act I culminates at the end of Sequence 2, the Midpoint occurs at the end of Sequence 4, Act II culminates at the end of Sequence 6, and Act III of course finishes Sequence 8. (You can however have a little more than 8 sequences…remember those two and a half hour movies??)
I know that may sound like Gibberish, so I’m going to provide the following link to the FABULOUS and UNBELIEVABLY HELPFUL ScriptLab website. Not only will you find the layout for the 8 sequences, but they include definitions for every feature, such as: Inciting Incident, Status Quo, Rising Action, etc.

It’s a great resource for all writers, especially those just getting started.

What I love about my board is that:

  1. I can see if I have too many scenes leading up to a specific Plot Point/Moment. When I looked at my rough draft, I realized that it took way to long to get to the Inciting Incident. I would have lost interest in a book that took that long. I was able to look at the board and see which scenes didn’t fit and could be cut. And my Midpoint? It sucked. And it did not hint to the ending in any way.
  2. I can move scenes around, delete scenes and add new ones. I feel like I’m really crafting my story when I do this because each scene now has a specific purpose. 
  3. I can add things like notes about character arcs or just simple things I want to remember to include. It’s easier to jot the thought on a sticky note and slap it on the board than it is to grab the lap top, find the right scene among all the documents I’ve saved, and type it in. When I revise that scene, I can make the changes then. At least I feel more efficient πŸ˜‰
  4. It’s just nice having it all laid out in front of me in an organized fashion.
So…if you don’t have a method to the madness, I hope this helps. If you have any questions about constructing your own board, just leave it in the comments. I’ll be sure to answer.
Author Diane Chamberlain’s Plot Board Using the 8 sequence structure.

Author Alexandra Sokoloff’s plot board using the 8 sequence structure.

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  1. This is almost exactly how I plot. I use the book, "Book In a Month," and she goes through the whole concept of the three act structure in nice detail. Instead of eight sequences, she recommends 10 scenes–the big scenes you would describe when telling someone the story of your novel. I usually have 2 scenes in act 1, 5 or 6 in act 2, and 2 or 3 in act 3.

    My favorite part of this plotting method is that it structures your pacing. Right now, I know my pacing is off a little because my mid point–that reversal in the middle of the book–is actually at about 60 or 65% of the way through instead of around 45-55%. I'm trying to judiciously cut words in the first half and beef up the storytelling and description in the second to balance that out.

    Um… This is a little long for a comment. I might need to blog about it myself soon.

  2. J.A….let me know how it goes!! And Loree…haha…you too. If you create a board, send me a pic. are one of the reasons I decided to try plotting πŸ™‚ You and the fact that I was losing my mind without a little organization! Send me pics, guys…I want to see how you plot!!