PLOTTING KNOWHOW Perfecting plot

 In her third piece about plotting, K. L. Kettle breaks things down to build them back up again.

Perfecting a whole plot can sometimes seem a daunting task. Mathematics helps us solve problems by taking things down to their component elements. So, let's break this down.

Three Act Structure

Many writing theorists, including the oft-quoted John Yorke, state each act itself needs to apply the same structure of an incident, hook, build and a dénouement (leading to the next act).

Now, take a look at an act you have that you feel is problematic. Does that act have a three/five act structure? Should it? For further help, I recommend Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid site for some great resources here.


Let's assume you have multiple scenes in a chapter. As a general rule of thumb, I would keep it to no more than three: a beginning, a middle and ending (the choice/decision of your character, leading to the next chapter is the impact of that decision).

Look at a chapter with multiple scenes.
  • How many are there? Too many?
  • Do the scenes build on each other in an arc?
  • Can you move one scene to a new chapter to create a cliff-hanger?

You guessed it! Each scene will have incidents, conflicts, impacts. i.e their own arc. Choose a scene in your story. Where is the turning point? Is there a clear arc?

Yes, you can apply the same theory to paragraphs - though not every paragraph. As most readers respond well to patterns, it’s useful to apply this approach to important paragraphs - ones with critical decisions, moments of tension, moments of incident or moments you want to linger in your reader’s memory.

Find a favourite book, and choose a scene. Find a paragraph which has a beginning/ middle/ end structure and shows a value change in that moment. Apply this technique to a critical paragraph in your manuscript. Interested in paragraph-length stories? Take a look at

Take it further...

If you want to take it even further, look at your sentences. Without getting too quantum here, let’s not forget structure…the basic grammar of ‘Subject, Verb, Object’ is in itself a form of plot, especially when you add punctuation.

Give it a go. Write a one-sentence (50 words or less) story. Done it? Congratulations, you just wrote a micro fiction.

If you enjoyed that level of detail, have a look at for more one line stories that stay with you long after you’ve read them.
Header image from Maxpixel

K.L.Kettle's debut YA novel The Boy I Am will be published by Stripes Publishing in 2020  

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