The Plotting Workshop: Scenes for Act I


Be sure to click here for instructions on how to set up your plot board.

This is my favorite part of this whole process. I love implementing my plot board! You might be tempted to just whip out your sticky notes and have at it, but I’m going to encourage you to slow down and take it Act by Act.

You probably won’t be shocked to learn that we’re going to start with Act I.

Before we dive in, let me give you a little note about what you’re going to do.

A full-length novel generally has between 60 and 90 scenes. Some kinds of novels have more than others. If you’re writing a 120,000 word high fantasy epic, you’ll probably have more scenes than someone writing a 60,000 word category romance. You don’t have to worry about hitting an exact scene count–just be aware of what’s typical for a novel.

All you’re going to do is write a few words about each scene on a sticky note. Each scene gets it’s own note. When I say a few words, I really mean just a few. For instance, if you have a scene where your hero meets your heroine, you’ll write TARZAN MEETS JANE (use your own character names, please!) on a sticky note. You won’t write something like TARZAN MEETS JANE WHILE SWINGING THROUGH THE TREES. JANE HAS GOTTEN HERSELF LOST FROM HER CAMP. HER FATHER IS LOOKING FOR HER. TARZAN FALLS IN LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT . . .

Too much. Just the basics for your plot board. You’ll thank me later. You’re not writing your novel here. You’re just placing markers along the road.

Grab your sticky notes and a pen (I like to use a Sharpie so that I can see my notes from a distance.) Let’s do this.



Remember that Act I of your novel has two sequences: one and two. That means two climactic scenes. One is going to be your inciting incident, at the end of sequence one, the other is your lock in at the end of sequence two.

Go ahead and make those notes and stick them to your board in the appropriate spots.

Two down. Good.

Now look back over your notes for The Ordinary World, The Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Meeting the Mentor, and Crossing the Threshold.

Ask yourself what happens before the inciting incident. What scenes let your reader know about the hero’s ordinary world? Do we meet anyone important before the call to adventure happens?

Write out notes for those scenes and stick them in sequence one.

What happens between the call to adventure and crossing the threshold, or the lock in? Which scenes show your main character’s struggle with entering the special world of the story? Which scenes convey the stakes for your MC if they choose not to leave their comfortable ordinary world? What characters are introduced in this part of your story?

Those notes go in sequence two.

You want about a quarter of your total number of scenes to land in Act I–so aim for 15 to 20. But, again, don’t get hung up on getting the number of scenes right. If you find that you have a couple of dozen in sequence one–well, take it from me, you’d rather know that when all you’ve done is write sticky notes than after you’ve written 20,000 words that haven’t moved your story forward.

Story is all about pacing. Every scene in Act I needs to move your MC toward the special world of the story–otherwise known as Act II.

Make sure to come by Facebook and share your work.

If you want to see this whole course on Teachable, for free, click here.

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