Today I’m going to introduce a little beastie I call The Monster Structure Worksheet.
That led me to create my own.
A full explanation of what I did and why can be found on the worksheet’s new home, a page specially made for it. Over time I’ll update it, and you can always get the latest version there. And because I know you won’t click-through, and I may end up changing the page, here’s my big-ass explanation.
Enter, the Monster Structure Worksheet!
This sheet combines classic 3-act structure, the Hero’s Journey, the afore-mentioned Three-In-One Plotting worksheet, and a bunch of things absorbed from James Scott Bell. I’ve cherry-picked the things that made sense to me, and skipped over the bits I don’t particularly agree with.
This is my monster:
You can download a PDF here: structure worksheet 2016 04 18.
Now, let me explain the logic behind it.
One thing that drove me crazy about other designs was that every chunk was given the same visual weight as the others. For instance, the Hero’s Journey is often depicted visually in a circle, with each section marked off. At least half the time each piece of that pie is identical in size to the other pieces.
That’s nice, but your end is, arguably, comprised of everything from points 7-12, which is half your circle. The beginning is also disproportionately large, leaving the vast bulk of your novel summed up as “Tests, Allies, Enemies,” otherwise known as “And shit happens for 150 pages.” (That is what we call a Muddy Middle, folks.)
I needed something that would give appropriate weight to each part of the journey.
The numbered boxes represent points on my modified Hero’s Journey. Note that some items are spaced quite far apart, and others practically run into each other.
Tent Poles & Intensity
Great to have a bunch of boxes, but how do I know which ones are most important? Where are my divisions between the acts?
The theory goes that you should have at least two Turning Points (tent poles) in your novel, typically when one act turns into the next. You also have a midpoint (smaller tent pole), where something significant ought to happen. (Bell calls this the “mirror moment”, when the MC gets introspective.) Combine this with the Hero’s Journey and we see the Call to Action is important, as is the Ordeal, which comes within Act III and so becomes a third Turning Point.
I’ve used color to remind myself that these things should build. Yellow to represent the MC’s shock, all the way through an intense red as the action becomes dangerous.
Structuring the Muddy Middle
Let’s zoom in on Act II, which is often termed the Muddy Middle. As we saw before, most models leave this as a giant blank. Roughly 50% of your book is written off as “and something happens.” If you’re lucky you get some guidance in the form of a wavy line.
This wavy line reminds us that both good and bad things should happen to our MC, and alternating between the two is effective.
So how do you structure this section? What needs to happen inside it? Quite a bit, actually.
Look! it has chunking! Sections! Things that need to happen! It’s not just an empty box!
Here we have significantly reduced the “and stuff happens” section (6) to only half of Act II. It only runs between the first Turning Point (5) and the Midpoint (7).
The second half of Act II actually has a lot going on. It begins with the Midpoint, and then everything that happens should be geared toward getting you to the set up for the end (10). This ramps up in intensity through another turning point (8) at which point things get really complicated for the MC. Part 9 is all about positioning everybody for that final battle scene. Then you hit the Ordeal/Turning Point 3/Climax and you’re in Act III.
That is a lot of stuff going on! Did you know your middle was doing all that work? Pat your middle on the back!
Cross-Referencing and Connecting Dots
This leans heavily on the Three-In-One sheet, with its arrows. The connections and their explanations made so much sense to me I decided to add them in. I had visions of a timeline with arrows connecting boxes.
…my first draft looked like this.
Even I don’t know what it means anymore.
So I gave up on the arrows and went for an item-by-item worksheet look instead. Consider those flyouts on the right prompts to help you make connections between sections.
And that’s the monster worksheet.
Here’s hoping it helps someone. If you have questions, shoot me an email.