Monday, December 16, 2019

Plotting With Michael Hague's Six Stage Plot Structure

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Like a lot of people this time of year, I'm utterly buried with far too many tasks, so I'm dipping into the archives today for a oldie but goodie. I'll be back to my normal posting routine before long, I promise. It's just been an exceptionally crazy few months.

There are a multitude of different plot structures writers use to create their stories, and this series looks at the handful of most popular ones.

So far we've discussed the Three-Act Structure, the Hero’s Journey, and the Save the Cat Beat Sheet. That leaves one more popular structure--Michael Hague's Six Stage Plot Structure. (Side note, if you ever get an opportunity to sit in on one of Hague's workshops, I highly recommend them.)

This structure is a great choice for those who want a minimal amount of outlining. It's elegant in its simplicity and provides a lot of room to grow your plot organically. And yes, it too uses a three-act structure. It's also a variation on the Hero's Journey, so you'll quickly notice the similarities there.

Hague's model is closely tied to his inner journey model (which I've discussed before), and weaves the two arcs together masterfully. That's the real strength of this model when used in tandem with his character arc format--using the inner journey to plot the outer journey. This is an excellent model for more character-based stories.

Extra tip: It's also a solid template for writing a synopsis when you're getting ready to submit your manuscript.

Act One: First 25%

Like every other act one so far, this starts out with the protagonist being who he is and getting an opportunity to act. Normal world, problems ensure, chances to act. Hague breaks his act one down like this:

0-10% - Stage One: The Setup: The protagonist is fully in his identity. He isn't trying to change his life yet, even if he feels something is wrong. Often he doesn't yet realize something is wrong. Then along comes an...

10% Mark - Turning Point One: Opportunity: Something happens that provides an opportunity for the protagonist to act, and this will lead him to what will ultimately make him happy and complete. This opportunity leads to a...

10-25% - Stage Two: New Situation: The protagonist gets a glimpse of what life would be life if he took the opportunity and acted. Things are changing for him, and it's all very new and exciting, yet also scary. This leads to...

25% Mark - Turning Point Two: A Change in Plans: The protagonist changes what he's been doing and acts. This launches act two.

Act Two: 25-75%

In act two, the protagonist works on changing his life and solving the problems of the plot. He isn't sure how to do that and has both victories and setbacks. Act two breaks out like this:

25-50% - Stage Three: Progress: The protagonist tries to accomplish things to fix the problems and become the person he wants to be, eventually reaching the...

50% Mark - Turning Point Three: Point of No Return: This is the no going back point. Whatever happens, the protagonist fully commits to his course of action. He knows what he wants and is going for it full tilt. Which leads to...

50-75% - Stage Four: Complications and Higher Stakes: The protagonist moves further into becoming the person he's going to be and the resolution to his problem. But things are getting harder and the consequences are getting higher. Which leads to a...

75% Mark - Turning Point Four: Major Setback: The protagonist screws up, often by getting overwhelmed with the new life and problem and retreated to the person her used to be. He falls/descends into...

75-100% - Act Three

In act three, the protagonist starts off in a bad spot, retreating to who he was and shunning who he wants to be. But he pulls it all together and faces whatever he was afraid to face. He's ready to move on. This starts with a...

75-90% - Stage Five: Final Push: The protagonist finally sheds his old self and becomes the new person, and this enables him to face...

90-99% - Turning Point Five: The Climax: The final fight with the antagonist and the resolution of the story's problem. The protagonist realizes if he fully embraces the new him, he will win. This ends with...

100% - Stage Six: Aftermath:
The protagonist has survived his ordeal and journey and is now the person he wanted to be, and has resolved the problems he was facing. He's shed the old and embraced the new and takes the first steps in his new life.

I've found this to be a great early draft model. The basic six stages offer enough structure to start brainstorming a novel, and as you flesh out the story you can move on to a more detailed outline (if you want of course). It works just as well on its own if you prefer a simpler structure.

And there you have it. Overviews on four common and useful structure formats. Hopefully at least one of them clicks for you, but even if they don't, I hope you've seen how similar plot structure is regardless of how you put a novel together. If you're goal is to break the rules, then these should also help, since you'll know how all the classic pieces fit.

Any questions or comments on the Six Point Plot Structure? 

*Originally published in October 2013. Last update December 2019.

For more help on plotting or writing a novel check out my Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure.

Go step-by-step through plotting and writing a novel. Learn how to find and develop ideas, brainstorm stories from that first spark of inspiration, develop the right characters, setting, plots and subplots, as well as teach you how to identify where your novel fits in the market, and if your idea has what it takes to be a series.

With clear and easy-to-understand examples, Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure offers ten self-guided workshops with more than 100 different exercises to help you craft a solid novel. Learn how to:
  • Create compelling characters readers will love
  • Choose the right point of view for your story
  • Determine the conflicts that will drive your plot (and hook readers!)
  • Find the best writing process for your writing style
  • Create a solid plot from the spark of your idea
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure also helps you develop the critical elements for submitting and selling your novel once it’s finished. You’ll find exercises on how to:
  • Craft your one-sentence pitch
  • Create your summary hook blurb
  • Develop a solid working synopsis And so much more!
Plotting Your Novel: Ideas and Structure is an easy-to-follow guide to writing your novel or fixing a novel that isn’t quite working. 

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The ShifterBlue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. I think out of all the four structures, this one fits my first major WIP the closest. I'd read Hero's Journey several years ago, and it had resonated with me, but this one meshes better on that story. I found myself lining up the sequences written out so far with the various points of the structure, though the percents were rather give and take. I'll have to think about which structure will help me most with my other stories. Thanks for going through all of these.

    1. Most welcome! This is a nice, basic framework without a lot of frills. The percentages will vary, so don't worry about that. General guides is all. But if you see one that's way off, it might indicate a problem in that area.

  2. I thrive on the three act structure, rather than breaking it into quarters, although this is a very effective model.

    1. It is a bit funny that the three act structure is really four chunks. I suspect that midpoint got slipped in there because middles are usually where most stories bog down (grin). I did it before I knew about these structures for that very reason.

  3. I have The Hero's Two Journeys CD. I love Michael Hauge's approach. It got me through NaNoWriMo last year! :-)

    Janice, thank you so much for this excellent series of posts on plot structure. I've really found them helpful.

    1. My pleasure. It was fun to do, and a good reminder for me as well since I'm doing NaNo myself and about to dive into a new project.

  4. Have you ever looked at Larry Brooks' Story Engineering model? If so, what do you think of it?

    I've been reading his book on and off for some time, but I keep getting distracted onto other things, so I can't really say I understand it yet.

    1. I have not, but I keep hearing about it. I'll have to add that to my to-read list. I enjoy his blog, though. He often has interesting approaches to things.

  5. Thanks for the break down of these plot structures. It's extremely helpful! I'm curious how one could apply these over a trilogy as opposed to a stand alone novel. Any suggestions?

    1. I treat the entire trilogy like a big book, with each book being one act. I'll do a larger trilogy story, then apply that to the individual books. So the book one/act one climax will resolve the larger trilogy act one problem. Does that make sense? Oh wait! I did a post on this once:

      That goes through the process in more detail using my trilogy as an example.

  6. Janice...

    Thank you so very much for taking the time to post these various plot structures. It's nice to know that we have options when it comes to making a story work.

    1. I'm glad so many people asked about it. There are so many options when writing a novel. We have plenty of guides to use, but how we use them is totally up to us.

  7. One more thing! The post that you mentioned about inner conflict is excellent! It's got me rethinking some things. I don't know how I missed that one before. :-/ Thanks again Janice!

    1. Most welcome. That workshop was amazing. I'd never seen anyone outline an inner journey like that before. So helpful!

  8. Janice, thank you so much for this series of posts on structure. It's great to have them all summarised so lucidly. I've cut and pasted them all into a single document, and am now constructing my own template based on the bits I like. Bravo... you provide a fabulous service!

    1. Thanks so much! It was fun to do, and nice to have the info on the blog. I'm always surprised when I find something I didn't have (grin). You guys ask the best questions!

  9. Hi Janice, I want to thank you for writing this article. I am merging my old career as an Employment Service Specialist with Storytelling and suffering from information overload. :) In fact, I was rethinking my writing and deciding whether I should return to business development (noooo!). Though I am creative, I also like being organized. I do love the Save the Cat process, but this seems less complicated and I can visualize my character's transformation as I read through your description. Is this a process you teach in your book? I am going to have a glass of wine, listen to the cello, and read more of your articles. So pleased to have found this site. And I am impressed with all the kind comments from your other readers. This says a great deal about you and your passion to serve. Well done!

    1. You are most welcome. Glad you found your way here. I do teach a similar process in my book, and I love structure, so I do a lot of planning. If you're an organizer, odds are you'll also find an outline structure useful. Just remember that you can adapt and adjust these however works for you, so don't feel you have to do things exactly as someone else for them to work. Writing is a fluid process.

  10. Hi, sorry to point out something that has nothing to do with your content about storytelling, which is great!. For some reason, my screen keeps jumping down to the video advertisement displaying at the end of the post. It happens whenever I'm trying to scroll through a post, and also for no apparent reason at all except to get me to look at the ad. It's so frustrating that I'm going to stop reading your site, at least for this evening. I don't know if Blogger is like WordPress, and offers an option for paying your way out of displaying ads, but it might be worth considering. Thanks, thought you'd like to know.

    1. Ugh, I"m so sorry it's doing that. It's not happening to me, so I had no idea. Blogger has been throwing up all kinds of issues lately and then there's nothing I can do about it. I'll see if there's a setting or anything to stop that video jump.

  11. Thanks for wonderful information that anyone can use to see their way through the fiction writing process.

  12. this is OK I guess it helped a little though so thanks