Tag Archives | three-act structure

Plot Busters – I So Don’t Do Spooky – Is it high concept?

Surprise! I’m giving you a dose of Plot Busters early. On Monday, myself and 24 other self published and indie published authors are launching The Indelibles blog. There will be chances to win a Kindle Fire and all our books in a blog hop. So be sure to check it out!

Now let’s move on to I So Don’t Do Spooky by Barrie Summy. I just love this series.

Logline: (from book) Thirteen-year-old Sherry helps her mother, a ghost, to investigate who is stalking Sherry’s stepmother, but Sherry is also very busy with school and friends, while her mother is also striving for a gold medal in the Ghostlympics.

Eh, this logline is just okay. I like my shorter version below.

Thirteen-year-old Sherry solves the mystery of who is stalking her stepmother to earn real time with her mother’s ghost.

High concept?

Let’s see. Ghosts, a mystery, high emotional stakes – I’d say yes. (I end up thinking that every book is high concept when the emotional stakes are high. So technically, this book might not be high concept. But that’s just semantics.)

1. Does the character offer the most conflict for the situation?

I love Sherry’s shopaholic, peppy personality. This is a mystery series and I love that we don’t have a noir detective, but a cute middle schooler who just wants to hang with her friends and boyfriend.

It’s not her personality or flaws that bring conflict to this mystery. It’s the fact that she wants to spend more time with her mom’s ghost. High emotional stakes.

2. Does she have the longest way to go emotionally?

In some ways, yes. Her dad has remarried one of Sherry’s teachers, who kids call the Ruler. And we can see from the first chapter, that Sherry is struggling accepting her as a mother figure.

3. Demographically pleasing?

I’d say yes. This is a perfect mix of contemporary with a bit of paranormal to make it fun. This story would appeal to middle schoolers and elementary age girls.

4. Is it primal?

Yes, definitely. Sherry misses her mom and longs to spend “real time” minutes with her. Without this emotional aspect, the story would not have carried the same level of impact.

If you’re wondering how to add emotional impact to your humorous middle grade or young adult story, look no further than this book. Summy does a masterful job. Lots to learn.

A week from Monday, we’ll cover Act I. So if you want to join in the fun and give Plot Busters a whirl, pick the book up at your library and break down Act I! We’ll compare notes. (Because really this is not my area of mavenness. I’m learning, just like you.)

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THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE (Act I) or how to make a BIG impact!

Last Monday, most of you came to the conclusion that based on the description and plot that THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE is not high concept. I can see your point. But if you want to write or understand how to make a low concept book have high impact, then keep reading.

Act I

Opening Image: (the before snapshot of the protagonist)

I fell in love with this opening. Lennie is sitting with her Gram and her Uncle, known as Big, as they contemplate Lennie’s emotional health and her future based on a plant. The plant, which has always been “connected” to Lennie has black spots and is quite sickly.

You’d think the opening would show Lennie’s life before Bailey died, but it starts four weeks after. So how is this the before snapshot? Well, it’s her life without Bailey before things start changing and getting out of control.

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

The plant says it all. This story is about survival and grieving. Will the plant survive? Which really represents Lennie. Will she make it through this experience a survivor?

In this opening, several times over, Gram and Big ask if the plant is going to recover.


Because this is more literary and character driven we are absolutely drenched in Lennie on every page. Every chapter in Act I shows us a different aspect of her life and her troubled relationships.


Lennie’s goal is to get through every day and face the challenges of how grief has changed all her relationships.


The stakes are extremely high for Lennie. It’s about the survival of her as a person, living, without her sister. She might not be saving the world or fighting a demon king, but to me, the stakes are just as high as if she were.

Six things that need fixing:

  1. Lennie’s soured relationship with her best friend, Sarah.
  2. Lennie sits in the closet, wearing her sister’s clothes, to grieve.
  3. Lennie doesn’t talk to her Gram anymore, refusing teatime or talks.
  4. Lennie’s lack of passion when playing the clarinet.
  5. Her bedroom, she shared with Bailey, has not changed, even down to Bailey’s dirty laundry.
  6. Lennie writes poetry and leaves the pages in random places around town.
  7. She’s been finding a reprieve from her grief while kissing Bailey’s boyfriend, Toby.

Catalyst: (the game-changing moment)

For me, the catalyst occurs in chapter 6, when Joe, new student and band mate, asks if they can play their instruments together. At this point, Lennie says no. But it gets her thinking. It symbolizes her unwillingness to let go of her grief, or even try. But we learn the problem stems to before Bailey’s death. Lennie has been struggling with a lack of passion in her music for over a year. So, a fellow talented musician asking her to play is a big deal. Almost as big, or bigger (in a personal way), than Frodo being asked to be the ring bearer and carry the ring to Mordor.

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

Okay, I’m going to be honest. I found it easier to find the debate in this character-driven story than I have some of the plot-driven stories. And maybe that’s because so much is being asked of Lennie that finding a debate is like plucking grapes off the vine.

Is she going to start living life again? But it is represented by one question. Joe keeps asking her to play with him, and she keeps saying no. When is she going to play again? When is she going to let go of the past?

At the end of Act I, Lennie is trying to pack up her sister’s stuff, but she’s having a hard time. Her and Toby go for a walk and share another emotional kiss. But it’s a kiss that develops from thinking about her sister and questioning how can the world go on? It’s a big moment. A dark moment.

And so ends, Act I.

Question: Do you think the only reason this book is high impact is because it deals with life and death and is more character driven? Have you read a high concept plot driven book with such impact?

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Practice, practice, practice – how do you practice?

I’ve coached my daughter’s soccer team for the past four years.

No more.

This week she’s trying out for the middle school team. The teams will be based on skill. For years it’s been all about equal play and having fun.

No more.

For years kids are told in youth sports that it’s not about winning. (Yeah, right.) Then they get older and it’s all about winning and playing time. Some players advance with natural skill and some by hard work.

I encouraged my daughter to run over the summer. To get in shape. Before it really counts.

And she’s glad she did. (That’s what happens when you have a coach for a mom.)

So, between novels or while writing a first draft or while revising – what do you do to practice writing? Do you know your weaknesses?

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I break down novels for structure. And I’ve learned a lot. I mean a lot. More than I could put in a blog post. All my Plot Busters posts? Well, sorry, they weren’t about me trying to share my expertise. That was me processing what I was learning.

Here are some ways to grow:

  • Reading (a lot)
  • Free writing in a journal

Help me fill out the list. What do you do to grow as a writer and bring new skills to each manuscript?

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Plot Busters – HEX HALL Breakdown (1)

Scroll down for the link to part 2.

HEX HALL by Rachel Hawkins.

I bought this book based completely on online buzz. As soon as I’d heard the main character was funny – I wanted to read it. And guess what? She was funny even though the story was serious.

Logline: At Hecate Hall, Sophie will learn to control her powers and follow rules except there might be an ancient enemy infiltrating the school, trying to kill her and other witches.  (my words)

Opening Image/Inciting incident:

Spell gone wrong. Need I say more?

Sophie’s simple act of mercy lands her in Hex Hall.

Act I climax/ Lock-in/ point of no return:

The end of Act I is also the end of Sophie’s first day of school. A mean girl invites Sophie to join her coven. Sophie says no. (Go Sophie!) And she learns her dad is Head of Council, who sentenced her to Hex Hall.

Honestly, I didn’t find this Lock in to be very strong. In fact, I picked it by finding the quarter point of the story. There was no debate. No decision she had to make entering into Act II.

It was there. Just subtle.

At the start of Act II, Sophie starts her classes. She meets Archer, the love interest. So the Break into Two was a bit stronger, which helped me find the end of Act I.

But you know what? It didn’t matter. While reading, I didn’t miss it. Sophie’s character and humor made up for it. I didn’t care.


If the Act I climax was a bit weak, the midpoint more than made up for it.

Returning to her dorm, Sophie finds a witch murdered in the tub, and the evidence points to her roommate, who is a vampire. From here on out, the story can’t help but be more tense.


I’m going to be vague so as not to give away anything.

Sophie learns the hidden truth about herself and her dad. She realizes who has infiltrated the campus; and learns her frenemy, Elodie, is in danger. Sophie runs to be the hero and fight the bad guy.

Third Act Twists: (Read no further because there will be spoilers.)

Rachel Hawkins had a superb Act III.

Reveal after reveal – many of which could be called twists.

But the biggest surprise for me was learning that Archer, who Sophie has now fallen hopelessly in love with, holds the mark of the “Eye”, the organization trying to kill witches. And of course she figures this out during the first kiss.

Rachel Hawkins got many things right with this story. Read Plot Busters (2) Tips from HEX HALL

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Power, Purpose, and Proportion of your Midpoint.

“The big twist!”  “The big reveal!”

I love finding that moment in the middle of a book. I look for it. If the midpoint scene does everything it is supposed to do, I’m well on my way to being a huge fan. (Okay, along with things like voice, character, and stakes – important stuff like that.)

Possible Midpoint scenes: (Just a few.)

  • Secrets revealed.
  • A new bad guy steps into the scene and the one we thought was the villain takes second place.
  • A murder.
  • A major clue found.
  • A couple makes their first real connection – as in a kiss or almost kiss.
  • The main character makes an important decision.
  • The main character experiences a false win. (The reader sees disaster in the near future.) Or a false loss.
  • True relationships revealed.
  • A big fight and the main love interest or best friend disappears for a bit.


  • The scene should have an emotional impact on your character; and hopefully, your reader. You want your reader to invest even more in your character. If the midpoint moves the storyline forward but not the internal storyline then something is missing.
  • The scene could move the plot in a new direction. Likewise, it’s about impossible for the main character to be affected emotionally without something big happening. The outer and inner arc are too connected.
  • The readers should gasp or open their eyes a bit wider after reading the scene. I love a book, where I hit the middle, and instead of yawning, I grip the edges and race to the end.
  • Power to convince the reader to pass the book on to a friend, write a review, and spread the word at this awesome book they just read.


  • The scene should not just be thrown in there because you read a craft book that said, “something big needs to happen in the middle of your story”. That would make it feel contrived. If you plan ahead, you can foreshadow and plant clues so that the midpoint scene feels organic to your story.
  • Because of the scene, the character should have to make new decisions, learn new skills or put skills learned to the test, and learn new emotional truths – all to be used in the rest of the story.
  • To keep your readers from falling asleep or choosing another book from the TBR pile.


  • And of course, plan the Midpoint scene so it’s in proportion to your story. A big moment in a quieter character-driven story would be small in a big thriller. And vice versa.
  • Make sure the scene is in line with how you’ve presented and developed your characters.

So, there you go. Now that you’ve got the goods on the Midpoint, all you have to do is worry about the easy stuff like voice, 3D characters, and theme.

What’s your favorite Midpoint scene? Do you put any thought into it when writing or does it happen naturally?

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