I SO DON’T DO SPOOKY – Act I breakdown.

Welcome to Plot Busters and the story structure breakdown series of this terrific middle grade mystery.

Act I:

Opening Image: (before snapshot of the protagonist’s life)

Sherry is getting ready for school, and the Ruler asks for Sherry’s help to find her missing car keys. We see Sherry’s poor attitude, learn about her boyfriend, her family; and because it’s the third book in the series, we already know a bit about her.

Theme stated: (What is the story really about?)

Not finding a specific statement, the theme was obvious as I read it. It’s about family and self-sacrifice.


For me, there is less flexibility with structure when it comes to mysteries. Early on, the mystery needs to be introduced, clues planted, and the detective introduced, who has motivation to solve the mystery. I SO DON’T DO SPOOKY has all of that.


Sherry, a middle schooler, with emotional lessons to learn, takes on any challenge with spunk and fight.


Outer: Sherry and her mom must figure out who is stalking the Ruler.

Inner: Sherry must be more respectful to the Ruler while solving the case, or she won’t be allowed to work with her mom anymore.


For sherry, it’s all about spending time with her mom, but evolves into saving her step mom. For a middle schooler those are high stakes.

Six things that need fixing: (or the plants in the plant and pay-off concept)

1. Sherry does not respect her stepmother.

2. Someone is hiding the Ruler’s stuff in the house and the Ruler blames Sherry.

3. Sherry misses her mom.

4. Someone is stalking the Ruler.

Okay, so it’s not always six.


In chapter one, someone is playing pranks on Sherry’s stepmother and Sherry is getting blamed. Call it a clue or the inciting incident. But everyday life has changed. The question is – what is Sherry going to do about it?

Debate: (asks some kind of question of the main character)

Is Sherry going to help her stepmother or continue to be disrespectful?

In chapter 4, the real mystery is stated. Sherry meets with her mom and her mom’s counselor. Together, they are given the mission to protect the ruler and find her stalker. With one rule – Sherry must show respect to the Ruler.

She might not have come to that conclusion on her own, but what middle schooler would?

The debate section in this story isn’t huge. Honestly, I think the question of how Sherry treats the Ruler is more a part of the character arc than the debate. What do you think?

And with the introduction of the official mystery, Act I ends.

Do you have all these elements in your Act I? Or do you not even pay attention to that sort of thing?

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15 Responses to I SO DON’T DO SPOOKY – Act I breakdown.

  1. Matthew MacNish January 16, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    I highly doubt these things are so overtly clear in my own novel. I suppose that’s bad.

  2. Natalie Aguirre January 16, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    After I read James Bell’s Plot and Structure, I try to include these elements more in Act I. Though I’m not sure they are as clear as in I So Don’t Do Spooky.

  3. Talli Roland January 16, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    Wow, what a great breakdown! I do plan out certain plot elements, though perhaps not in such detail.

  4. Stina Lindenblatt January 16, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    Since I’m a huge fan of STC, I know they are in my wip (including the six things that need fixing).

    Great breakdown as always, Laura!

  5. Karen Lange January 16, 2012 at 1:56 pm #

    Thank you, Laura. This really makes me consider some things in my WIP. I appreciate the breakdown. It’s interesting what surfaces (or not) when you examine along these lines.

    • Laura January 16, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

      Thanks everyone! The great thing in this book is that none of the elements were obvious until I looked for them. And I think that’s the real key about writing. Anything we do, we need to make it seamless and unobvious!

  6. Leigh Moore January 16, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    Great breakdown! And this sounds like a perfect MG book. I can see MGers relating to these things, being disrespectful, wanting to set the record straight… Sounds like a fun book! And I guess I try to set books up this way. I’m not sure I consciously focus on it when writing, but in revisions I sure do. :o) <3

  7. Lisa Green January 16, 2012 at 5:17 pm #

    Great breakdown as always! I think that sometimes the character arc and plot arc overlaps enough that the issue can be both.

  8. Alex J. Cavanaugh January 16, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    Not sure I look for those elements in the first chapter. I do follow “Save the Cat”‘s elements for the overall story though.

  9. Leslie Rose January 16, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    This breakdown format would be great for discussions in my classroom. The book would be a hit with the kids as well. Thanks so much.

  10. Susan R. Mills January 16, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

    I try to include these elements, but I don’t know that they are as clear as this.

  11. Traci Kenworth January 17, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    I don’t keep track of the elements during my first drafts, it’s when I’m putting the final touches on that I study things to make sure they click. Great breakdown!! Maybe I will learn to do this more from the beginning with my new found studies of books I’m reading.

  12. Barrie Summy January 18, 2012 at 6:05 am #

    Wow, Laura! I love this! I must admit it’s kind of a weird feeling to read a breakdown of something I wrote. Then again, I’m so honored!! Thank you.

  13. Julie Musil January 24, 2012 at 2:36 am #

    I totally pay attention to this sort of thing when I’m writing, but I struggle to always find it in the books that I read. I love how you break things down, though. Like with The Sky is Everywhere, you pointed out plot points that I didn’t even notice! Thanks, Laura

    • Laura January 24, 2012 at 2:44 am #

      Julie – It’s easy to get lost in a book and not even notice these elements! 🙂

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