Tag Archives | Act I

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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PRINCESS FOR HIRE by Lindsey Leavitt is a cute, fun ride with plenty of depth. It lives up to the promise of its title. Join me as I break down Act I – so we can learn and hopefully apply to our own writing. Scroll down for links to Act II and Act III.

Logline: (my words) Small town Idaho girl receives her wish to make an impact when she’s offered the job to substitute for princesses around the world.

  • Strong protagonist? Check. Desi
  • Irony? Check. Right away I can picture the potential scenes for a small town girl trying to survive in the world of royalty.

Is the main character of your current wip the absolute worse possible candidate for the role? Good. If not? Um, fix it.

  • Universal appeal? Big enough for the targeted age. Girls at this age aren’t playing dress up any more. They make fun of Disney princesses, but secretly wish to feel special – like a princess.
  • Antagonist? The Princess Agency establishment and their philosophy of not letting the subs make an impact in the lives of the princesses. And one agent in particular.

Act I

Opening Image: (Tone, style, mood, snapshot of the character’s life.)

Desi works for a mall pet store dressed as a groundhog, passing out coupons. She runs into her ex-friend, Celeste, who makes fun of her. Desi’s voice during this heartbreaking but humorous situation sets the tone. It makes me want to read more.

Funny, funny, funny. I could do a whole post on the genius of this first chapter!

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

Check. I found it in Chapter 2, page 15. Desi wishes to be the kind of person who makes an impact. And she humorously adds, and a more glamorous job. Can a small town nobody make a real impact?


  • Hero: Desi
  • Stakes: Her happiness.
  • Outer Goal: Desi wants a fresh start for eighth grade. (Not looking good.)
  • Inner Goal: Desi wants to make an impact, even though her friends and family seem to be against her.


  1. Desi has a miserable job that Celeste (her ex-friend) knows about.
  2. Desi feels like the black sheep of the family – the non beauty queen.
  3. Low self-confidence.
  4. Unrealistic crush on Celeste’s boyfriend, Hayden.
  5. Unwillingness to listen to the voices of reason in her life. (Friend, Kylee; parents)
  6. Needing money for college.

“If the events that follow did not occur, it would pretty much stay this way.” Blake Snyder, SAVE THE CAT.

Catalyst: (The life is about to change moment!)

In chapter 4, Desi takes a bubble bath, and Meredith appears in a bubble (love the play on Cinderella) and offers Desi a job as a princess substitute.

Honestly, I debated whether the catalyst was Meredith arriving in the bubble or when Desi made the wish to make an impact on the fish tank at work. But Blake’s words in SAVE THE CAT when describing the catalyst moment convinced me otherwise. The main character should be asking: Dare I go? Should I go?


PFH is a middle grade novel. And accordingly, the debate section covered the span of about a few pages instead of a few scenes. Meredith asks Desi to sign the contract. Desi has to make the fateful decision.

Break into Act II (The protagonist makes the decision and leaves the old world behind.)

Desi signs the contract and enters the bubble with Meredith. Reader can’t miss that turning point!

I’m sure there are lots of terrific stories where the main character isn’t the worst possible candidate for the role. But how I feel about that would make this post way too long. So maybe another time!  See you next time for Act II!

Click for the breakdown of Act II and Act III.

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