Generating Index Cards for Story Elements

I've been on a craft rollercoaster ride and here is something I recently came across to help plot my next story.


* Opening image

* Meet the hero or heroine


* Hero/ine's special skills

* Hero/ine's inner and outer desire

* Hero/ine's ghost or wound

* Hero/ine's arc

* Inciting Incident/Call to Adventure

* Meet the antagonist (and/or introduce a mystery, which is what you do when you're going to keep your antagonist hidden to reveal at the end)

* State the theme/what's the story about?

* Allies

* Mentor (possibly. May not have one or may be revealed later in the story).

* Love interest (probably)

* Plant/Reveal (or: Set ups and Payoffs)

* Hope/Fear (and Stakes)

* Ticking Clock (possibly. May not have one or may be revealed later in the story)

* Sequence One climax

* Plan, Central Question/Central Story Action

* Act One climax


* Crossing the Threshold/ Into the Special World (may occur in Act One)

* Threshold Guardian/Guardian at the Gate (possibly)

* Hero/ine's Plan

* Antagonist's Plan

* Training Sequence (possibly)

* Series of Tests
* Picking up new Allies and Bonding with Allies

* Assembling the Team (possibly)

* Attacks by the Antagonist (whether or not the Hero/ine recognizes these as coming from the antagonist)

* In a detective story, Questioning Witnesses, Lining Up and Eliminating Suspects, Following Clues.


* Genre scenes


* Completely changes the game

* Locks the hero/ine into a situation or action

* Can be a huge revelation

* Can be a huge defeat

* Can be a "now it's personal" loss

* Can be sex at 60 the lovers finally get together, only to open up a whole new world of problems


* Recalibrating after the shock or defeat of the game-changer in the midpoint, the hero/ine must Revamp The Plan and try a New Mode of Attack.

* Escalating Actions/ Obsessive Drive

* Hard Choices and Crossing The Line (immoral actions by the main character to get what s/he wants)

* Loss of Key Allies (possibly because of the hero/ine's obsessive actions, possibly through death or injury by the antagonist).

* A Ticking Clock (can happen anywhere in the story)

* Reversals and Revelations/Twists.

* The Long Dark Night of the Soul and/or Visit to Death (also known as: All Is Lost)

* In a romance or romantic comedy, there is often Declaration of Love scene or an ultimatum I call "The Lover Makes A Stand" scene, in which one lover confesses his/her feelings- and/or tells the more reluctant lover "Commit to me now or hit the road." Interestingly, this is often also the "All is Lost" moment in a romance.


* Often can be a final revelation before the end game: the knowledge of who the opponent really is

* Answers the Central Question



The third act is basically the Final Battle and Resolution. It can often be one continuous sequence the chase and confrontation, or confrontation and chase. There may be a final preparation for battle, or it might be done on the fly. Either here or in the last part of the second act the hero will make a new, FINAL PLAN, based on the new information and revelations of the second act.

The essence of a third act is the final showdown between protagonist and antagonist. It is often divided into two sequences:

1. Getting there (Storming the Castle)

2. The final battle itself

* Thematic Location - often a visual and literal representation of the Hero/ine's Greatest Nightmare
* The protagonist's character change
* The antagonist's character change (if any)

* Possibly ally/allies' character changes and/or gaining of desire

* Possibly a huge final reversal or reveal (twist), or even a whole series of payoffs that you've been saving (as in Back to the Future and It's A Wonderful Life)

* RESOLUTION: A glimpse into the New Way of Life that the hero/ine will be living after this whole ordeal and all s/he's learned from it.

* Closing Image 

So how about you? Do you pants or plot your story?


  1. Great outline!
    I like a Save The Cat-style beat sheet.

    1. It's not mine but I came across this and it works. Thanks for coming along Melissa!

  2. I think I'm going to plot the sex at 60 one, for personal reasons - something to look forward to. Otherwise, I write and revise as I go. I do plot things out when I get stuck, but that continuously evolves and changes.

    Great to "meet" you here. Thanks for dropping by.


  3. This is a great outline Kelly. I am most impressed! I am a pantser trying to reform. This is very helpful. Thank you.

    Oh and so glad you signed up to the WEP blogfest! Can't wait to see your entry!


    1. Hi Denise!

      With all your help and encouragement!

  4. I'm definitely a plotter and this list is great!

  5. I plot, but I don't use the three act template. I like more action-oriented stories, so I start close to the climax and insert all the backstory and character stuff in between the action. It's quite hard to keep the action rolling and still develop characters... Great post! :-)

  6. This is terrific! I love how you broke everything down. I'm definitely a plotter. These are things I'll definitely keep in mind!

  7. Wonderful outline! I like using the three act template across my books as well as across entire trilogies (when I have a trilogy).

  8. That was a GREAT post, full of information and ideas. Thanks for posting... I do both, but in reverse order. I fly by pants to begin with, then end up outlining once I know the story and who is in it.

    1. Yes, Lisa, this was helps even in revisions. Thanks for coming along!

  9. What a fantastic post Kelly, I love to see the workings of how you authors come up with your fascinating plots. Love it!